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7 posts categorized "Knowledge Management"

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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