Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

68 posts categorized "Innovation"

The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation

March 04, 2014

(Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux are part of the Monitor Institute, a consultancy and think tank focused on philanthropy and social change that operates as part of Deloitte Consulting LLP.*)

As philanthropy has gotten more strategic over the last decade, many foundations have begun to lose their appetite for risk and experimentation. But a small number of funders have begun to intentionally seek out and support high-risk, high-reward innovations with the potential to truly transform our most intractable social challenges.

In our recent article, "The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation," we explore the processes and practices used by these “innovation funders” and look at how funding breakthrough innovation differs from more traditional grantmaking approaches. The article is the cover story for the just-released Spring issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and can be found here on their site.

In the article, we share a process for intentionally injecting two interrelated innovation principles — transformation and experimentation — into philanthropic processes and systems in order to bring a greater degree of risk-taking, openness, and flexibility into funders’ work.

Although these approaches often take a different shape within each institution, innovation can typically be introduced at five different stages of the funding process: sourcing, selecting, supporting, measuring, and scaling. The article shares a series of stories illustrating what these activities look like in practice.

Illustration_stages_of_funding

While a formal innovation strategy requires thoughtful choices around structures, processes, networks, culture, and many other considerations, there are some simple ways that funders can begin to embed innovation principles in their work. Here are a few steps that a foundation could take to get started:

1. Make deliberate out-of-strategy grants. Dedicate 10 percent of your grantmaking budget to support projects that seem promising but don’t fit neatly into your strategy. Each quarter, hold a meeting to discuss what has been learned from this "out-of-strategy" grantmaking and how it could influence the rest of your work.

2. Ask your grantees. Grant recipients bring a perspective on the field very different from foundation staff's. Solicit ideas from your grantees about emerging ideas and who is doing work that is pushing the envelope.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 1-2, 2014)

March 02, 2014

Ukraine_protestorOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Big Data

In the Washington Post, Brian Fung reports that more than a dozen civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, "are backing a set of principles targeting the widespread use of data in law enforcement, hiring and commerce."

With the advent of big data, are "we to assume that government and business will be 'upended', 'revolutionized', 'disrupted' or some other exciting verb but [that] nonprofits and civil society will remain unchanged?" asks Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. Not likely, says Bernholz. "On the contrary, the implications of networked digital data for both addressing our shared social problems and changing how we voluntarily act, how we associate with each other as independent citizens, how we organize for change or protest, are profound. Isn't it time for a real discussion of privacy, association, and autonomy -- about civil society -- in a networked data age?"

Education

Guest blogging on Education Week's Living in Dialogue blog, Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, argues that "the lack of process is precisely why Common Core needs to be abandoned, especially by public service and teacher unions."

Health

In a post on the Forbes site, Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist with an interest in lifestyle and environmental exposures as factors in chronic disease, suggests that reports that we may "finally be seeing the beginnings of a reversal in the upward trend in obesity" -- a conclusion based on one statistic from a study conducted by researchers at National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- belies a more sobering reality: there was no change in obesity either in children and adolescents or in adults over the ten-year study period.

Innovation

Innovation in social change works is great, writes Dr. Robert Ross in a special supplement to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but it's not everything. "In fact," adds Ross, "when it comes to addressing today’s urgent social problems, from education and public health to civil and human rights, innovation is overrated."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (February 15-16, 2014)

February 16, 2014

Prez_day_buttonOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Giving

Interesting article by Rick Cohen in the Nonprofit Quarterly arguing that charitable gift funds created by the likes of Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab, and Vanguard have made "charitable giving for moderately wealthy people easier, more strategic, and more natural."

Impact/Effectiveness

"That the nonprofit sector has changed hugely in recent years is beyond dispute," writes Tris Lumley, director of development at London-based New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. "It has grown, become increasingly professionalized, and over the last decade started coming to grips with planning and measuring its impact," Lumley adds. "Yet these are incremental changes, and I believe that the sector's trajectory does not point to a pivotal future role in solving social problems and delivering social justice." Lumley goes on to explain why this is the case and what a "new paradigm" for the social sector would look like.

Innovation

Which global companies/organizations are the most innovative? Google, certainly. Netflix and Airbnb, sure. But Bloomberg Philanthropies? Absolutely, says Fast Company, which cites the foundation's "sophisticated, data-driven solutions for every step of the [philanthropic] process, from identifying priorities to monitoring progress to scaling pragmatic solutions," as the chief reason for ranking it #2 on its list of the Most Innovative Companies of 2014.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (August 3-4, 2013)

August 04, 2013

August_loungingOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

According to a post by Rebecca J. Rosen in The Atlantic, a new paper in the journal Science finds that climate change is set "to occur at a pace 'orders of magnitude more rapid' than at any other time in the last 65 million years" -- and that is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for many species to find appropriate habitats in time to avoid extinction.

Communications/Marketing

Writing in Forbes, Harish Bhandari, director of digital engagement and innovation at the Robin Hood Foundation, argues that digital tools have changed the the way people think about charity and nonprofit work and that communicating with donors and advocates today is a 24/7 operation. With that in mind, Bhandari offers five tips designed to help your organization build greater digital engagement with and awareness of your cause.

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Mission Investors Exchange blog, Peter Berliner, MIE's managing director, shares "a few (carefully chosen) words" about the terminology that has developed around investing for both social and financial returns. But no matter which term we use to describe such activity, writes Berliner,

we want to keep sight of the critical role that foundations play in the broader field of impact investing. Foundations have attributes that other investors do not. Many foundations are less constrained than other types of investors. They can be more flexible relative to risk and rates of return. They can be more patient. [And] because of their commitment to mission, they are better positioned to monitor and evaluate social returns, and hold investees accountable....

How does any social-purpose organization know whether it is having an impact? By analyzing and measuring outcomes, of course. But that's easier said than done. Or is it? In a two-part series on the magazine blog, Ruth Whateley, manager of the UK-based Social Impact Analysts Asssociation (SIAA), offers some real-life examples of organizations and individuals from across Europe engaging in social impact analysis and provides some practical advice with respect to educating and engaging with funders and government to ensure that the discussion around impact analysis is not a top-down conversation.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (June 1-2, 2013)

June 02, 2013

Summer_funOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on the Inside Philanthropy blog, Katherine McLane, vice president for communications and external affairs at the Livestrong Foundation, explains how the organization plans to move on from the doping scandal involving its founder, international cycling star and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. "None of us anticipated the rapid and radical changes that are now the new normal," writes McLane. "But we're dusting ourselves off and keeping the focus where it should be: helping people with cancer...."

Community Improvement/Development

The folks at the Philanthropy Potluck blog give a shoutout to MCF member the Bush Foundation, which has launched two new grant programs designed to "enable, inspire, and reward community innovation" in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the twenty-three Native nations that share the same geography.

Fundraising

On the Chronicle of Philanthropy blog, Carol Weisman, an international consultant who specializes in fundraising, governance, and volunteerism, shares some advice about "what to do when donors say 'no' or 'I'm not sure'."

Continue reading »

Scaling Social Innovation

May 29, 2013

(Paul L. Carttar is a partner at the Bridgespan Group and former director of the Social Innovation Fund, a federal initiative that enlists private intermediaries to help expand innovative programs proven to promote economic opportunity, healthy lives, and youth development.)

Headshot_paul_cartarrIn much the same way a parent feels extraordinary awe and wonder in watching his or her child grow up and succeed, I recently experienced a powerful sense of pride at a conference in Washington, D.C., devoted to the subject of bringing to scale innovative nonprofit programs, particularly those serving low-income communities.

The conference was sponsored by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the country's largest community development organization, and focused on LISC's successful scaling of Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) -- an initiative to help low-income people take control of their family finances. Working off a model developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in just three years LISC has expanded the program from four centers in Chicago to seventy-one locations in thirty cities across the country. Much of the funding for this growth came from an innovative federal program called the Social Innovation Fund when I was the fund's director. As I said, I couldn't be prouder.

The FOC approach is simple but sound. It recognizes that getting a job is just the first step toward achieving long-term financial stability. So FOCs focus on improving the actual net cash a family has each month, taking account of what a family spends as well as what it earns, and helping low-income and unemployed individuals by providing an integrated set of services that are typically siloed. These services include not only job training and help getting and keeping a job, but also hands-on financial coaching related to budgeting and building credit, as well as assistance in identifying and applying for public benefits.

While we still have much to learn about the full impact of FOCs, there are clear indications the approach works. Over the past two years, nearly 75 percent of FOC clients improved their monthly cash flow and net income, while 43 percent raised their credit scores. In addition to improved cash flow and credit scores, clients receiving this integrated set of services showed dramatic gains in employment and net assets compared to those who received such help piecemeal.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 11-12, 2013)

May 12, 2013

Poster_mothers-rightOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Megan Sullivan shares a list of tools for resource-constrained nonprofit communications officers.

Fundraising

Frustrated by your organization's inability to turn its good work into consistent, sustainable donor support? Hop over to the Fired-Up Fundraising blog, where fundraising consultant Gail Perry shares a very good list of the ten things you need to understand about how fundraising really works. Recommended.

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Markets for Good blog, Laura Quinn, executive director of Idealware, argues that as much as funders and others value the idea of more and better performance data from nonprofits, most nonprofits do not have the resources to provide high-quality data about their own effectiveness. How do we get them to a point where that’s possible? asks Quinn.

It would take more than just a little training or a second look at their priorities. They'd need sizable investments in a number of areas. They'd need help with technology, and to understand how to best make use of data and metrics on a limited budget. They'd need a rationalized set of metrics and indicators that they're expected to report on, standardized as much as possible per sector with a standard way to provide them to those who need them.

Funders need to understand what is and isn't feasible, and to redirect the focus of their desire for community impact evaluations from small nonprofits to the university and research world so the nonprofits they support can be unencumbered to work toward a better world....

Building out the "information infrastructure" of the social sector, as Markets for Good and its supporters (the Gates and Hewlett foundations prominent among them) propose to do, is an admirable idea, writes Bridgespan's Daniel Stid on the Markets for Good blog. But "if we build it," he asks, "will the putative buyers and sellers in the envisioned marketplace -- the philanthropists and nonprofits spending and soliciting money within it -- use it as planned?... [W]ill better information change their behavior?" What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (March 16-17, 2013)

March 17, 2013

Egg-on-endOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

Over at Katya Andresen's Non-Profit Marketing blog, Kari Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann, co-authors of the recently published Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement, explain how developing a platform to engage Millennials can better position an organization for success.

Impact/Effectiveness

"[M]ost social good organizations...[are] focus[ed] on reproducing the institution, not reusing...data," writes self-described data wonk Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "This needs to change in two ways," adds Bernholz. "First, nonprofits should be using their data for social purposes only....[And, second] when it comes to enterprise level data, the default should be to share all the data you can."

On Arabella Advisor's Greater Good blog, Katrina Briddell and Lauren Marra share five keys to effective donor collaboration.

The Inter-American Development Bank's Lina Salazar Ortegón shares five things investors need to know about impact investing metrics:

  1. Reporting requirements should be simple and in line with the client companies’ operations.
  2. It's necessary to involve both investment officers and investee companies in the measuring and tracking process, training them on the importance of metrics and reporting.
  3. To the extent it contributes to everyone speaking the same language and using the same type of indicators, tracking performance contributes to better communications with stakeholders.
  4. Investments aren't the only thing that need to be tracked. Grant-funded projects with potential to become profitable and sustainable business models also need to be monitored from the start.
  5. Metrics must be negotiated during the due diligence process and be formally included in the loan agreements.

Ortegón invites readers to learn more about the challenges the bank faced, the improvements it made, and the lessons it learned by reading the OMJ IRIS User Case, which was published earlier this year by the Global Impact Investing Network.

Continue reading »

Better Ways to Bring Social Programs to Scale

January 11, 2013

(Chris Walker is director of research and assessment for the Local Initiative Support Corporation. A longer version of this post was published online in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in December.)

Walker_chris_headshotIncreased demand for social programs that are simultaneously threatened with budget cuts creates a need to not only ramp up proven innovations, but also to be smarter and more effective in doing so. In 2011, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national community development intermediary dedicated to the comprehensive revitalization of low-income neighborhoods, leveraged an investment from the Social Innovation Fund to further expand its Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) program. LISC recently undertook a thorough study of its expansion of the FOC model to identify which elements and strategies made it work, and how they might help similar organizations.

Financial Opportunity Centers help low-income families by offering a suite of counseling services, including financial coaching to support basic budgeting and credit repair; advice about how to get and keep a good job; and assistance in identifying and applying for public benefits. Early results have been promising -- the program has gone from four original sites in Chicago to sixty-six centers nationwide.

The study revealed some important takeaways.

First, successful scaling of the program requires a certain amount of standardization. While granting some flexibility, LISC works hard to maintain the integrity of the core FOC model.

Continue reading »

“Beep, Beep”: The Sound of Philanthropy and the Social Economy in 2013

January 07, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

Wile-E-Coyote"We will change what we do with and without institutions, and we will change how our institutions (funders, nonprofits, and others) work." So predicts self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz in Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2013, a must-read roadmap available for the first time as a GrantCraft publication. "Beep, beep." Wile E. Coyote (me, nonprofit executive) has just been left holding a burning stick of dynamite while the Road Runner (Lucy, blogger extraordinaire) races headlong onto her next prediction. That is the true value of Blueprint 2013 for those who are busy running the institutions that make up the "social economy": Lucy has seen the future for us, and now we must struggle to adapt, respond, and innovate. The data- and technology-driven future she envisions is both exhilarating and a bit unsettling, but one thing is clear: the Silicon Valley credo is fast approaching the staid world of philanthropy: "Disrupt yourself or be disrupted."

The vast majority of today's social sector leaders grew up in a world where foundations were the funders and nonprofits were the doers. Blueprint 2013 lays out a vision of a social economy inhabited not only by traditional nonprofits, but also by social businesses, socially responsible corporations, peer networks, and institutional forms not yet invented. Donors in this economy have choices between well-known forms of charitable giving (like creating a foundation), impact investing, and political giving to bring out the change they desire.

Running throughout the social economy is the lifeblood of data. In 2012 alone:

Continue reading »

2012 Year in Review: Impact Investing, Other New Forms of Giving Gain Traction

December 31, 2012

Pnd_yearinreview_2012Impact investing -- the practice of making loans and equity investments in nonprofits and socially minded businesses working to generate measurable social or environmental impact with the expectation that the money will be repaid over time -- and other new forms of giving continued to gain traction in 2012, thanks in part to the efforts of organizations like the Nonprofit Finance Fund, Omidyar Network, and the Skoll and Rockefeller foundations.

The year got off to a flying start when, in February, NFF announced a $40 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation in support of community development projects across the United States; an initiative of the U.S. Treasury Department, the NMTC program enables nonprofits to affordably complete facility improvements and finance projects in low-income areas around the country. In March, Omidyar Network and ACCION International made a $3.2 million investment in Zambia-based Mobile Transactions to boost financial transactions across the Zambian economy. In April, the Skoll Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a $44.5 million global initiative to identify and fund high-impact social entrepreneurs who have created workable innovations and sustainable, scalable business models. And, in May, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced its participation through its Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund in a $3.7 million Series A venture financing round for Umbel, a privately held digital audience measurement company.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 29-30, 2012)

December 30, 2012

Happy_new_yearTo help mark the end of another eventful year, we've rounded up a dozen or so of our favorite "best of" and nonprofit trendspotting pieces. Have a list you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

Communications/Marketing

On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen shares Trendwatching's list of consumer trends to keep an eye on and weighs in on what each could mean for nonprofits in 2013.

And in a two-part series on her Getting Attention blog (here and here), Nancy Schwartz lists the nonprofit marketing trends that are "must-dos" for your organization in 2013.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Kula CEO Gerrit McGowan looks back at some of the CSR high- and lowlights of 2012 -- and tells us what companies looking to take their CSR programs to the next level will be doing in 2013.

Innovation/Leadership

As it has it has for many years, Foreign Policy magazine closes out 2012 with an eclectic list of the top global thinkers -- a list that includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, novelists Haruki Murakami and Chinua Achebe, and Russian environmentalist Yevgenia Chirikova.

Continue reading »

Of Fire Trucks, Obama, Romney and Philanthropy

October 15, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he announced the launch of the Reporting Commitment, an effort initiated by a group of the largest U.S. foundations to develop more timely, accurate, and precise reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars.)

Gilpinlib_sign"I live in a rural community where the Tea Party dominates, no new taxes can be passed without a super majority, and government is cutting back on everything. The other day someone asked me how I can help the fire station find money to buy a new fire truck. What do I tell him?"

I was recently asked that question by a librarian at "Network Days," an annual live/virtual gathering of the librarians, nonprofit resource center administrators, and community foundation leaders that are the human face of the Foundation Center's Cooperating Collection Network. In all fifty states and fourteen countries around the world, CCs help struggling nonprofits, those who want to create nonprofits, and people who want to work in nonprofits connect with the resources they need. Except when there are no resources to be found.

Despite being president of the Foundation Center, the world's largest source of information on organized philanthropy, my response to that librarian's question was pretty feeble. All I could really muster is a few words to the effect that, around the country, there are small, local foundations which, on occasion, are willing to contribute to the purchase of a fire truck, an ambulance, emergency medical equipment, and the like. You can find some of them through the Foundation Directory Online or by searching 990-PF tax returns. Most of them don't have Web sites.

Continue reading »

Jeff Raikes on the 'Innovation Pile Up'

October 04, 2012

(Jeff Raikes is chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The following post originally appeared on the foundation's Impatient Optimists blog and is reposted here with the permission of the foundation.)

Jeff_raikes_headshotWelcome to my new blog series, where I'll be sharing my thoughts on the Gates Foundation and philanthropy. Every six weeks I'll be posting a new blog discussing a pressing issue at the foundation or addressing some of the challenges and opportunities facing the philanthropic community. More than anything else, this is a space for a conversation. So please submit your questions, share your feedback, and let me know if there are any topics you would like to hear about.

For my first post, I want to discuss a challenge at the foundation that's been on my mind lately. It's called the "innovation pile up." Let me explain.

At the Gates Foundation, we believe in the power of innovation to improve lives. That's why over the last decade we've invested in one of the fattest pipelines of lifesaving technologies the health and development world has ever seen. A new, rapid diagnostic test for tuberculosis that will help reduce transmission of the disease. Better tools to enable women to plan their families. Even improved toilets that provide clean sanitation for the world's poorest people. In all, the foundation and its partners have developed more than a hundred new innovations that are available today or scheduled to be introduced by the end of the decade.

That's the good news.

Here's the bad news: None of these innovations will make a difference if they can't reach the people we aim to serve.

Continue reading »

Clinton Global Initiative 2012 - Monday a.m.

September 24, 2012

Cgi_logoPhilanTopic is at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan this morning to cover the eighth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. (Watch the livestream here.) The theme of this year's meeting is "Designing for Impact" -- how can we design our world to create more opportunity and more equality? And how might we design our lives, our environments, and global systems in order to impact the many enormous challenges at hand.

The meeting opened yesterday with a session moderated by CGI founding chair and former President Bill Clinton that featured Michael Duke, president/CEO of Wal-Mart Stores; Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan; Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations; and Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group. (Watch the video here.)

Things really got rolling this morning, however, with a powerful speech ("Designing Diplomacy for the 21st Century") by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- who was welcomed by CGI attendees as if she were a rockstar (or once-and-future presidential candidate). In it, Secretary Clinton shared a three-part framework for U.S. diplomacy and development assistance in "a time of great change." My scribbled notes don't do her talk justice (you can watch the livestream here), but here's the gist of what she said:

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "Simplification is by far the most effective way to manage complexity...."

    Felix Salmon

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs