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10 posts categorized "Knowledge Management"

A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

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How Millennials Are Changing the Workplace — for Good

June 23, 2014

Headshot_emily_yuWhat's the secret to keeping millennials engaged and satisfied with their jobs? Create and provide meaningful opportunities for them as employees to do good — whether it's through a donation match, volunteer days, or even service-oriented sabbaticals.

While opportunities for service may not seem like the most pressing challenge for companies, the organizations that successfully meet the needs of millennials will be better positioned to not only attract but also retain this dynamic workforce. Within the next ten years more than 50 percent of the workforce will be represented by those born between 1979 and 1999. The next generation of employees is entrepreneurial, well educated, tech savvy, and driven by their passion to do good, and these tendencies and preferences are already influencing the policies and workplace structures of many companies.

A new survey of more than fifteen hundred millennials conducted by Achieve and sponsored by the Case Foundation affirmed this generation's strong commitment to workplace giving through activities such as volunteering, service projects, and pro bono work. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report showed that a company's involvement with cause-related opportunities influenced all stages of employment — from a millennial's decision whether or not to accept a job (more than 55 percent said they were persuaded to say yes after cause work was discussed during an interview), to whether or not they planned to stay at a job (20 percent said belief in the company's mission and purpose would be the most important reason for staying).

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Google Loves Taxonomy; Is It Good Enough for Philanthropy?

June 02, 2014

Portrait_linneaus"Why do I need Foundation Center's taxonomy when I can find everything I want on Google?" was the question posed to me by the board member of one of America's largest philanthropic foundations. I remember giving an appropriately measured response, but later I realized I should have answered: "That's like asking why we need farms when we can buy everything we need at the supermarket?"

Google loves taxonomy like supermarkets love farms: without it, Google search results wouldn't be anywhere nearly as deep, accurate, or varied. Why? Because most of the enormous volume of information that feeds the brilliant algorithms of Google's search engine has been collected, cleaned, and structured by somebody else. And structuring data has relied on classification systems known as taxonomies since Carl Linnaeus published Systema Naturae in 1735. Messy, incomplete, and unorganized data is of little interest to Google because it would have to spend too much time and money to make such data useful. Better to let other people do that, get the improved data for free or next to nothing, and monetize the pageviews it generates on the Google site through advertising (more than 90 percent of Google's revenue).

So why does philanthropy look askance at taxonomy? It starts with the very notion of classifying the work of foundations. Philanthropy is an intensely individualistic industry made up of some 82,000 endowed, self-sufficient, private foundations that serve the public good. They are free to describe their priorities, programs, initiatives, and grants however they choose, and they display a fair amount of creativity in this regard. To the extent that foundations think of taxonomy at all, it is usually the larger, staffed foundations that do so, and their reasons for doing so are twofold. The first is internal knowledge management – another way of saying that having no classification system or multiple systems in place can make it virtually impossible for a foundation to fully understand its own work over time. The second reason is concern for reputation, whereby a donor's or CEO's own "legacy" can drive an attempt to classify and align the foundation’s activities to self-described strategic priorities. Such efforts often create a kind of bespoke taxonomic silo that provides internal consistency at the expense of aligning that information with the way others beyond the foundation’s walls have organized it.

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Want Results? Funders Should Pay to Ask the Right Questions

August 07, 2013

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she spoke with Sharna Goldseker, managing director at consulting firm 21/64, about the priorities of millennial donors and what makes them different from their parents and grandparents.)

Performance_measurementGrantmakers have always been able to manage their inputs. Each year private foundations provide a list of their grants to eligible 501(c)(3) organization via the Form 990-PF. Foundation boards, fundraisers, and anyone with access to the Foundation Center's site or a GuideStar account can quickly access this baseline data.

But just as the charges on your monthly credit card statement are only one indicator of your personal financial health, foundations don't learn a whole lot about their overall effectiveness by only tracking the size of their grants budget. After years of debate about the need for better evaluation -- on both the funder and grantee sides -- measuring outcomes and gauging the results of foundation grantmaking is still a work in progress, especially for small and midsize foundations and their nonprofit partners.

While reporting to funders has always been a requirement for smaller nonprofits, the data collection and evaluation they tend to do for funders is not always integrated into other organizational planning efforts. Indeed, most small to midsize nonprofits cannot afford to hire a full-time evaluation officer, and in a time of constrained budgets, few executive directors are willing to prioritize data collection over service delivery. And even when organizations are willing to devote resources to performance measurement, there often is a disconnect between the questions frontline managers are interested in asking and the kind of data foundation program officers and executives are looking for to prove the effectiveness of a given program to their boards.

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U.S. Foundation Archives: An Endangered Species (Part 2)

January 24, 2013

(John E. Craig, Jr. is executive vice president and COO of the Commonwealth Fund. Read the first post in this two-part series here.)

In an earlier post, I reported on the findings of a December 2012 survey by the Commonwealth Fund of foundations' current archiving practices. It is of considerable concern that no more than 20 percent of even large foundations (those with assets of $240 million or more) maintain archives, given the importance of historical records to researchers and helping to assure accountability and good management in the sector.

A review of the literature, the survey findings, and conversations with leading archivists and foundation officers suggest ways in which the state of archiving in the foundation sector could be improved. Here are a dozen for your consideration:

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The Archives of U.S. Foundations: An Endangered Species (Part 1)

January 23, 2013

(John E. Craig, Jr. is executive vice president and COO of the New York City-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that works to "promote a high performing health care system." A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog).

A foundation's archives preserve records of the programs, activities, products, governance, people, and history of the organization that may have enduring cultural, historical, research, or institutional value. Yet despite the important role archives play in a field that focuses on investing in ideas, a recently released survey about foundation record management practices reveals that only a small minority maintain foundation archives. Clearly, there is a need to make a case for why foundations should devote resources to archive development and management. And there are at least six compelling reasons for why foundations should give their inactive files and historical records serious attention.

1. Historical Research on Social and Economic Developments and Influential Institutions and Individuals.
The late Paul Ylvisaker described philanthropy as "America's passing gear," and foundations serve this purpose in numerous ways: by helping to launch movements (such as civil rights, environmental protection, or health care reform); by developing new institutions and strengthening existing ones; by making society more inclusive through support of programs to improve the lot of vulnerable populations; by building up the knowledge base for social improvements and scientific advancement and, through the support of individual researchers, contributing to the nation’s intellectual capital; and by strengthening the social fabric and physical capital of the communities in which foundations operate. In the hands of good researchers, the records of foundations can provide guidance for future generations in tackling new and continuing social problems. For example, no history of the civil rights movement would be complete without access to the permanent records of the Ford Foundation; no history of the development of the "miracle" rice strains that sparked the Green Revolution, which helped transform Southeast Asian societies in the 1960s and 1970s, would be complete without the records of the Rockefeller and Ford foundations; and no history of the healthcare reform legislation of 2010 would be complete without the records of the Commonwealth Fund, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other national and regional healthcare philanthropies.

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Here Today, Not Gone Tomorrow

January 18, 2013

(Lisa Brooks is a co-founder of IssueLab and director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about the importance of archiving old research.)

Sorry_closedAbout a month ago, IssueLab received an e-mail from a man in Jackson, Michigan, who runs an organization focused on mentoring high-risk youth. He found a report on the IssueLab site he wanted to share at a meeting he was about to host, and he wanted to know how he could obtain twenty-five hard copies. The report, The Promise and Challenge of Mentoring High-Risk Youth: Findings From the National Faith-Based Initiative, was published in 2004 by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV). The fact that the report was published nine years ago by P/PV made his e-mail especially interesting.

As many of you know, P/PV, after thirty-five years in operation, closed its doors in the summer of 2012. About six months later, the Public Education Network (PEN), which had been doing good work for twenty-years, closed its doors. One of the last tasks both organizations completed was to partner with IssueLab to preserve their respective publications. So while neither organization is around today, anyone can browse P/PV's research reports, case studies, and evaluations or PEN's white papers, case studies, testimonies, opinion polls, and survey results through the special P/PV and PEN collections on the IssueLab site. And that's a good thing, because as our friend from Michigan can attest, these publications continue to provide data, insights, and case studies that can inform the efforts of those working in the fields of education and children, youth and families.

What would have happened to P/PV or PEN's publications had they decided not to turn over stewardship of their published collections to IssueLab?

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 17-18, 2012)

November 18, 2012

Pumpkin-thanksgiving-wreathOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

With the critical holiday fundraising season right around the corner, new reports from Charity Dynamics/NTEN and Blackbaud remind us that "Establishing emotional connections with donors remains paramount," writes Katya Andresen on her Non-Profit Marketing blog.

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Big Duck's Meghan Teich has some advice for nonprofit communications pros in the aftermath of a crisis or major natural disaster:

  • Make sure your staff is kept up to date on your communications plan and that they have a clear understanding of your messaging.
  • Strike while the iron's hot, but not so soon that it looks like you're capitalizing on the crisis.
  • Don't use the crisis as an opportunity to do general fundraising for your organization (unless you have a particularly relevant mission). Instead, create a specific fund or give donors a tangible item or event to which they can donate.
  • Reach out to other nonprofits, even those you view as "competitors," to explore how you might work together.
  • Keep your supporters and donors updated on the progress you're making in real time via e-mail and social media.

"I urge you to take the steps necessary to make sure you are engaging the right people in the right ways to reach your marketing goals," writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention blog. "And to start today." Sounds like good advice to us.

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Old Reports Are New Again

November 12, 2012

(Lisa Brooks is a co-founder of IssueLab and director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center.)

Old is the new NewOften when talking with folks who contribute content to IssueLab, we encourage -- indeed, urge -- them to share all their publications regardless of date published. More often than not, we get a response along the lines of "that report is so old we don't want to include it. It's not relevant anymore."

Well, reading the New York Times on a recent weekend, I came across an editorial titled "The Struggle to Cast a Vote: Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders." A timely article, given that the 2012 elections were at that point only two days away. So, I started to read and what did I notice? A 2005 study by the Sentencing Project, an IssueLab contributing organization, was cited. I repeat: the editorial cited a 2005 study. Total word count of the piece? Four hundred and sixty-seven -- and more than a quarter of them were dedicated to a seven-year-old study. How's that for legs?

In that same issue of the Times, another editorial, "How Romney Would Treat Women," also zeroed in on a key issue in the election and mentioned a fact sheet published in August 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, another IssueLab contributor. While that publication was of more recent vintage than the Sentencing Project report, I couldn't help but wonder whether it would still be available to the public a few years from now. Yes, the Times will archive its editorial in perpetuity. But will the link to the institute's fact sheet still be live in, say, 2019?

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From Open Data to Open Knowledge: Foundations, Nonprofits, and the Production of Ideas

November 08, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he looked at what philanthropy can do to help underresourced communities in tough economic times.)

IssueLabIf you think foundations are only ATM machines and nonprofits just service providers, think again. With the launch of IssueLab, there is one place you can go to find more than eleven thousand knowledge products published, funded, produced, and/or generated by foundations and nonprofits in the U.S. and around the globe.

Last month, the Foundation Center announced the Reporting Commitment, an effort by fifteen of America's largest philanthropic foundations to make their grants data -- who they give money to, how much, where, and for what purpose -- available in an open, machine-readable format. Starting today, through IssueLab, the social sector can also access what it knows as a result of that funding. A service of the Foundation Center, IssueLab gathers, indexes, and shares the sector's collective intelligence on a free, open, and searchable platform, and encourages users to share, copy, distribute, and even adapt the work. It's a big step for philanthropy and "open knowledge."

What's in it for you? Read on.

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