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1030 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

[Review] 'Abusing Donor Intent: The Robertson Family's Epic Lawsuit Against Princeton University'

April 16, 2014

(The newest book by Doug White, a well-known expert in the fields of philanthropy and nonprofit management, is "equal parts thriller and cautionary tale," writes Daniel Matz, Foundation Web Manager at the Foundation Center. Click here for more from PND's long-running Off the Shelf series.)

What is a gift? In an ordinary sense, a gift is something — money, property, advice — given freely by one party to another without the expectation of receiving something in return. We all like gifts, and so, too, do the 1.4 million nonprofits in the United States that benefit from private donations, large and small. But in the calculus of large-scale institutional philanthropy, a gift isn't really a gift; it's a gesture with a purpose — a purpose informed, to varying degrees, by the intent of the person or institution that gave the gift. And therein, as Shakespeare might say, lies the rub.

Cover_abusing_donor_intentIt's no surprise that wealthy donors and foundations seek out organizations and institutions that share their own passions and interests. But what do donors really expect from a nonprofit grantee in the long run? In the performance-measured, accountability-driven world of twenty-first century philanthropy, grantee reporting is de rigueur. For most nonprofits chasing after scarce dollars (and hoping for future gifts), the willingness and ability to demonstrate that they've aligned themselves with a donor's intent goes without saying. But what happens when a donor, after many years of happy engagement with an organization or institution, begins to believe that the original intent of the gift is no longer being honored? Our intuition tells us that, at some level, gifts/grants/donations involve a leap of faith, and that when the trust between donor and recipient is compromised, the recipient is unlikely to receive additional future gifts from that donor. A donor or foundation might even go public with its disappointment in order to discourage others from making gifts to the recipient. But rarely does a foundation or donor who has become disenchanted with a recipient ask for their money back. Which raises the question: Should they be able to? And does a statute of imitations ever apply in such a situation?

Those are two of the questions Doug White, a well-known expert in the fields of philanthropy and nonprofit management, tackles in Abusing Donor Intent: The Robertson Family's Epic Lawsuit Against Princeton University. Just as White earlier explored a rogues' gallery of swindlers and incompetent trustees in Charity on Trial, here he invites the reader to look behind the curtain of privilege and wealth, this time to learn just how bad things can get when a donor and beneficiary no longer see eye-to-eye. Informed by the slow burn of a decades-old frustration, not to mention the disposition of hundreds of millions of dollars and the reputation of one of America's oldest and most respected universities, Abusing Donor Intent is equal parts thriller and cautionary tale.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 12-13, 2014)

April 13, 2014

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

Civil Society

Writing in The Week, journalist Matt Bruenig takes a closer look at the one part of the charity versus social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Daniel Stid considers the implications of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission for the foundation's developing plans for grantmaking in the democracy area.

Data

"Big Data is suddenly everywhere," write New York University professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times. "But precisely because of its newfound popularity and growing use, we need to be levelheaded about what [it] can — and can't — do." Before we embrace big data as the answer to all our problems, they add, keep in mind that big data:

  • is very good at detecting correlations but never tells us which correlations are meaningful;
  • often works well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement;
  • can be gamed;
  • often generates results that are less robust under further scrutiny than initially thought;
  • is subject to what might be called the "echo-chamber effect";
  • can amplify errors of correlation;
  • is prone to giving scientific-sounding solutions to hopelessly imprecise questions; and
  • excels when applied to things that are common but often falls short when applied to things that are less common.

Environment

As part of Goldman Sachs' Focus On series, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, makes the business case for investing in nature (video; running time: 3:08).

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the the summary of its new report on climate impacts a few weeks ago, the word "transform" has been flying around in climate circles, writes Megan Rowling on the Thomson Reuters Foundation site. And if you listen closely to those conversations, adds Rowling, "the message is clear: the world has not yet changed radically enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, nor even to protect itself from the more extreme weather, gradual climate shifts and sea-level rise that are already hitting us. Instead we"ve been fiddling with adaptation while the planet burns."

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[Infographic] Charitable Giving in the U.S. vs the UK

April 05, 2014

"The UK should not aspire to a U.S. model of philanthropy and tax incentives -- it is not replicable and is a unique product of social, political and historical factors," a report released by the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation back in February argues.

The report, Give Me a Break (20 pages, PDF), argues that while there are things the UK can learn from the U.S. model of philanthropy, there are features of it that the UK, which has a well-organized welfare state, cannot and should not replicate. "For instance," the report notes, "the U.S. charitable deduction is inherently biased toward those [with] higher incomes....Similarly, donations in the U.S. go disproprtionately to religious causes and education (45 percent in total)."

A few other interesting facts from the report that are included in the infographic below:

  • The oldest surviving charity in the U.S. is the Scots' Charitable Society of Boston, which was founded in 1657 and incorporated in 1786; the oldest in the UK is the King's School, Canterbury, founded in 597.
  • The average deduction claimed for donations of clothes in the U.S. in 2004 was $1,400.
  • 2.6 percent of the UK workforce is employed by the voluntary sector, while the nonprofit sector accounts for 9.2 percent of wages and salaries in the U.S.
  • Evidence from the U.S. suggests that donations go up as tax rates rise.

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Is Your Philanthropy 'Autism Aware'?

April 02, 2014

(Peter Berns is chief executive officer of The Arc, the largest community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in the nation.)

Headshot_peter_bernsOver the last six years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its estimate on the number of kids in the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorder ("ASD" or "autism") from 1 in 125 in 2008, to 1 in 88 in 2012, to 1 in 68 today. That's a staggering increase.

Children, youth, and adults with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, are part of the fabric of society. They attend the preschools and kindergartens that many of you are working to improve and can be found among the ranks of students striving to succeed in school and go to college. You'll find them among the unemployed struggling to find a job, among patients with chronic conditions searching for adequate care, and among the homeless. Many of them are active in the visual and performing arts or enriching society through their scholarship, activism, and community service. Their family members and friends are everywhere you look. They are not going away, nor should they.

Autism is part of the human condition; it permeates every aspect of our communities because it is a fact of life. Which is why, regardless of grantmaking priorities, foundations and philanthropists must be autism aware and do more to incorporate a "disability dimension" into their work.

Think about it. Is it really possible to affect the "school-to-prison pipeline" without taking into account what's happening in the special education system or statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which show that students with disabilities experience higher rates of discipline, suspension, and involvement with law enforcement than students without disabilities? Is it really possible to effectively address domestic and sexual violence if you don't know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience such violence at a much higher rate – three times as high for women with disabilities, and twice as high for men with disabilities – than the general population? Is it really possible to address chronic unemployment without considering that people with autism and other I/DD experience much higher rates of unemployment – as high as 80 percent – and need much more in the way of supports and interventions in order to secure gainful employment?

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2014)

April 01, 2014

March was another busy month here at PhilanTopic, as readers responded enthusiastically to Laura Callanan's four-part series on social sector leadership, our usual weekend offerings (including a great infographic about millennial myths), and new posts by Gabriel Kasper/Justin Marcoux, Dr. Anand Parekh, and others.

It looks like spring has finally sprung, and we've got lots of great content planned for the month ahead, so don't be a stranger. In the meantime, here's a chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to over the last month that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Weekend Link Roundup (March 29-30, 2014)

March 30, 2014

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

April_showersCommunications/Marketing

In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, the Barr Foundation's Stefan Lanfer shares some lessons he and his colleagues have learned about communicating in times of change. The first two are simple but powerful: know what you want to communicate, by word and by deed; and know what you don't want to communicate. Check out Lanfer's the post for three more things the foundation got right.

Education Reform

Public school advocate Diane Ravitch has posted a draft version of of remarks made at an education conference earlier this month by Dissent contributor Joanne Barkan on the topic of how to criticize the role of "big philanthropy" in education reform

Fundraising

In today's New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, lets readers in on a well-kept secret: Fundraising is fun. The "magic" of raising money for a cause or organization, writes Brooks,

goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere conviction. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with the financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society....

On the Relationship Science blog, Kathy Landau, executive director of the National Dance Institute in New York City, makes an impassioned case for seeing data and relationship building "as mutually beneficial rather than mutually exclusive."

Grantmaking

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Grant Coates, president and CEO of the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth, explains how a reevaluation of the foundation's grantee selection process helped him and his colleagues realize that leadership often is what separates a "good" grantee from a "great" grantee. "The presence of powerful leadership," Coates writes, "is almost tangible – it's a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that's measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process."

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[Report] 'Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil'

March 27, 2014

BRIC reportOne of the most significant international developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has been the growing economic power of the so-called BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Dismissed in the 1970s by many as economic basket cases, the four countries, which account for over a quarter of the globe's land mass and more than 40 percent of its population, have, in the quarter-century since that momentous event, opened their economies to the world and emerged as dominant global suppliers of manufactured goods and services (China and India), and raw materials (Brazil and Russia).

The startling surge of economic activity in each of the four countries over the last twenty years has been accompanied by an explosion of wealth, which in turn has led to the emergence, in all four countries, of organized philanthropic activity and what those of us who cover philanthropy would call an infrastructure to support it.

Indeed, that activity is the subject of a new report just released by the Foundation Center, in collaboration with WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support), a global network of grantmaker associations and philanthropic support organizations. Authored by Joan E. Spero, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (and the first president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), the report, Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil identifies some of the cultural, economic, social, and political forces that are shaping giving in the BRICs and examines the growth and nature of foundations and the philanthropic sector in each of the four countries.

Because the charitable sector in each of the four countries is new and not well organized, the data on charitable activity in each country is limited and difficult to compare. Nevertheless, there are common characteristics and issues that emerge from a comparison of giving in these countries. For example, the report looks at the traditional cultural and religious origins of charity/philanthropy in the four countries, including the Jewish concept of "tzedakah" (or righteousness), which has influenced a small but important part of contemporary Russian philanthropy; the concept of "zakat," one of the five pillars of Islam, which has shaped giving in the Arab countries and on the Indian subcontinent; and the concept of "dana," which is embraced by Hindus and Buddhists and has also influenced the small but important Parsi or Zoroastrian community of India.

The report also examines the process of economic liberalization in the four countries (a process, as Spero writes, that "has been accompanied by the growth of the middle class and the accumulation of vast fortunes by a new, wealthy business class, often linked to the global economy"); considers the increasingly worrisome issue of inequality, which has increased in China, India, and Russia over the last twenty years and remains very high in Brazil, where it has always been a feature of the economic landscape; and looks at external influences, including philanthropic support from foundations like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, MacArthur, Mott, and Open Society in the U.S., the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, and the British Charities Aid Foundation.

Here are a few takeways from the report:

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Women on the Front Lines of ACA Implementation

March 24, 2014

(Ellen Liu serves as director of women's health at the Ms. Foundation for Women.)

Headshot_ellen_liuWomen have a lot to celebrate this month. March is Women's History Month, and March 23 marks the fourth anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Over the past five years, the Ms. Foundation for Women has been funding outreach and advocacy efforts to ensure that women and women's health services are a central part of implementation of the ACA.

With nearly one in five women uninsured nationwide, the need for targeted outreach to women is undeniable. Low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women are uninsured at substantially higher rates than the national average for all women.

Our work on the ACA has focused on ensuring that all women have access to preventive care, treatment, and services. We know that access to health care improves the well-being of women, resulting in greater financial stability, peace of mind, and lower rates of depression.

Given the proven benefits of health insurance, it has been especially important for the Ms. Foundation to address health equity and to support those who have the least access to affordable quality care. Through our Women 4 Health Care program, we have focused on the intersection of gender, race, and class, both by funding advocacy for inclusive, comprehensive health coverage and by targeting outreach to underserved women.

In the process, we have learned some valuable lessons about successful advocacy and outreach strategies. First, we have learned that we must engage at multiple levels to ensure that women are not left out. Our grantee partners have been active on various levels, serving on governance and administrative committees for their state exchanges; monitoring legislation that pertains to women's health; providing technical assistance to state exchanges to ensure they prioritize women, as well as strategizing about how best to reach women through outreach campaigns; and leading community efforts to link women and families to resources that can help them through the enrollment process.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 22-23, 2014)

March 23, 2014

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

Advocacy

"[A]ctivist and advocacy organizations have increasingly come to look and act an awful lot like multinational corporations," and that's not a development we should applaud, write Genevieve LeBaron and Peter Dauvergne on openDemocracy's Transformation blog. It's not just the corporatization of NGOs and questions of money that make LeBaron and Dauvergne uneasy. "What’s more disturbing," they write,

is how corporatization is transforming what activists and NGOs now think is "realistic" and "possible" to change in the world.

Increasingly, NGOs are dividing advocacy into projects with concrete and easily-measurable outcomes in order to demonstrate "returns on donations." Needing to pay salaries, rent and electricity bills, NGOs have centralized their management structures and moved away from tactics that might threaten firms or governments or donors.

Advocacy for far-reaching change in world politics is increasingly off the table: radically-reorienting international organizations, redistributing global income, reining in multinational corporations beyond voluntary codes of conduct, reversing unfair terms-of-trade, protecting workers, and pushing for a different economic order that is based around sharing and an end to growth....

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Greta Knutzen chats with Lee Sherman, co-founder and chief content officer at Visual.ly, about data vizualization and its value to the social sector.

International Affairs/Development

Humansophere blogger Tom Paulson has a nice Q&A with development economist Willam Easterly, whose newest book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, argues that "the 'technocratic' and apolitical approach favored by the aid and development community (including the World Bank) has served to keep the poor oppressed because it ignores one of the primary drivers of poverty – the poor's lack of individual rights, of economic and political freedoms."

Are unconditional cash transfers to poor people in developing countries as effective as some claim? The team at GiveDirectly, a site that is pioneering the concept, responds to the Mulago Foundation's Kevin Starr and Laura Hattendorf, who recently suggested in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that such transfers may turn out to be "more of a 1-year reprieve from deprivation than a cost-effective, lasting 'solution to poverty'."

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5 Questions for...Olga Lech, Philanthropic Account Supervisor, Geller & Company

March 20, 2014

As globalization, technology, and financial innovation combine to create great wealth – and great inequality – individual donors and foundations are under increasing pressure to be more nimble, more strategic, and to take more risks. Even as philanthropy struggles to respond to these challenges, the role of the philanthropy professional is evolving. Business as usual is out; managing complexity is the order of the day.

Earlier this week, PND spoke with Olga Lech, a philanthropic advisor at Geller & Company, about some of the changes roiling the field.

Headshot_ olgalechPhilanthropy News Digest: We often hear that it's harder to give a large fortune away than it is to make one. Do you agree?

Olga Lech: I think they are equally difficult, but in different ways. The level of complexity changes – sometimes significantly – depending on what it is you are trying to achieve. If you simply want to be charitable and support good causes to make the world a better place, you may look to donate to a local charity such as a church or school in your community with a year-end gift that supports their operations and/or mission. If you are looking to be a philanthropist, however, your giving will most likely be focused on longer-term programs that seek to address bigger social issues, which would most likely cause you to look at other components such as sustainability, governance, and the recruitment of staff and volunteers.

The difference between charity and philanthropy is really where the complexity comes into play. Another dimension is impact. Philanthropy often strives for the highest impact in terms of results and outcomes, which in this global age can also require international cooperation and logistics. This often means you need to follow and measure the results of the projects you fund. That said, both charity and philanthropy are equally noble endeavors, and choosing which to pursue is a highly personal decision based on a variety of factors, not the least of which is complexity. 

PND: What are the most common mistakes made by high-net-worth donors? And what can a good philanthropic advisor do to help them avoid such mistakes?

OL: It all begins with the personal vision of the wealth owner and the degree to which an advisor can help translate that into an effective plan in line with other wealth management elements such as taxes, investments, and even succession issues. The advisor role is to not judge the endeavor, but to help strengthen it. For example, the John Templeton Foundation gave a grant to establish an institute for research on unlimited love. If the donor or client came to me with this idea, my role would be to research it, identify the most effective way to advance the cause, outline the risk factors, and find the best ways to mitigate those risks to protect the client's assets. The beauty of private philanthropy is that it allows donors to fund projects, programs, and initiatives that no federal, state, or local government would have the freedom to fund. And many of these initiatives lead to breakthrough discoveries with impacts that touch many lives.

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Catalyzing Impact Investments Through Coordinated Grantmaking

March 19, 2014

(The following post was adapted from "From Grants to Groundbreaking: Unlocking Impact Investments," an ImpactAssets issue brief by Amy Chung of Living Cities and Jed Emerson.)

Illustration_ImpInvPhilanthropy and the practice of grantmaking traditionally have been very separate from traditional investing in both culture and approach, but the emerging field of impact investing invites a productive collaboration between these two disciplines. Indeed, in an increasingly resource-constrained world, the ability to drive more impact investments into the communities and issues we care about is imperative. In the paragraphs that follow, we will explore how family foundations, philanthropic institutions, and public funders can use their grants strategically to unlock future impact investments in social businesses and socially driven business models that are either too risky or not ready for investors seeking financial returns.

In traditional capital markets, there are clear roles that different investors play in the sequence of financing for organizations as they move from seed stage to later stage. In the impact investing field, the role and needs of investors at different stages follows a similar though less clearly defined path. The relatively recent proliferation of socially driven business models makes it challenging for many to identify opportunities that are ready for investment or that have enough of a track record to provide confidence in their future returns. While such an environment provides investors with opportunities to be creative with financing, it also requires increased transparency and communi­cation from investees, funds, and intermediar­ies to accommodate different risk and impact profiles within the same deal or investment opportunity.

In many cases, the work of innovative socially driven business models may be accelerated by combining various types of impact invest­ment capital, in effect "stacking" capital that requires a financial return with capital that does not in order to "buy down risk" or otherwise make a deal happen that philanthropy or market rate investment alone would not be able to achieve. Because grants do not require repayment or a rate of financial return, they can be used more flexibly in certain transactions. For example, grants may be used to provide guarantees, fund a loan loss reserve, or serve as flexible lending capital, each of which may be needed in order to leverage or attract capital seeking a return. Coordinating grants with investment in this way may not only reduce the risk associated with particular transactions, but also can support socially driven financing models, thereby enabling impact investment opportunities that might otherwise not be possible.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 15-16, 2014)

March 16, 2014

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

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention blog, Julie Brown, program director at the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation in Ohio, shares the steps she and a colleague have taken over the last year to achieve "storytelling success" and boost donor engagement at the foundation.

Community Improvement/Development

On the Huffington Post's Black Voices blog, Ashley Wood, Detroit editor for the HuffPo, takes a closer look at the hipsters-are-taking-over-Detroit narrative and uncovers a fascinating (and more nuanced) conversation. As Meagan Elliott, an urban planner and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, says at the end of the piece: "I think everyone is open to change. That's what makes the conversation interesting. Everyone recognizes that things need to change here."

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fast Company, Stephanie Vozza explains why every company should pay its employees to volunteer.

Data

Writing on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Foundation Center president Brad Smith looks at the three types of data (transactional, contextual, impact) foundations need and suggests that "for strategic philanthropy to realize its true potential, foundations need to learn how to manage information (data) to produce and share knowledge. Doing so," adds Smith, "will depend on changing internal incentive systems, in which foundations employ static data primarily as means for approving strategies and monitoring grants."

Giving

Nice infographic on the npEngage site illustrating highlights of Blackbaud's 2013 Charitable Giving Report. Click here to download (registration required) a copy of the report, which includes overall giving data from 4,129 nonprofit organizations representing more than $12.5 billion in total fundraising and online giving data from 3,359 nonprofits representing $1.7 billion in online fundraising.

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The Smartest Investment We Could Make: The Future of Girls

March 13, 2014

(Dr. Anand K. Parekh is an adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. His family manages the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation.)

Girls_in_classroomAs the father of two young girls, there is no greater joy for me than to see them smile and thrive. This is why I often remember former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s words: "There is no policy for progress more effective than the empowerment of women and girls. A nation that neglects its children, especially girls, is a nation that neglects its future and development." Given this truth, the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation has initiated a focus on two areas particularly important to girls: water and sanitation, and primary school education.

We could have chosen many areas of need to focus on, so why girls, why water and sanitation, and why education?

To begin with, we were struck by the numbers: globally, 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation, while 768 million people lack access to safe water. Every day, 2,000 children die from water-related diseases. And each year, 60 million children are born into homes without access to safe water and sanitation. It's estimated that improvements in these areas alone could vastly improve health outcomes, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs – while increasing a country's gross domestic product (GDP) by anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent. Girls are disproportionately affected by the water and sanitation crisis, given that they frequently miss school or drop out altogether because of a lack of a private toilet in school. Tens of thousands of other girls and women spend hours at a time walking for miles while carrying water on their heads that can weigh up to forty pounds. Simply put, access to water, sanitation, and hygiene enables women and girls to take control of their lives.

The numbers around education are equally alarming: 793 million people worldwide are illiterate. Once again, girls and women are disproportionately affected and account for two-thirds of all illiterate persons. In the developing world, an estimated 42 percent of girls are not enrolled in school, while more than 60 million primary school-aged children of both genders do not have access to education and likely will never learn to read or write. The numbers are confounding, not least because we know that even a few years of basic education empowers women and girls to take control of their lives. Educated women are healthier (an extra year of  education for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 percent to 10 percent) and earn more (an extra year of education boosts future wages by 20 percent). If every child were to receive an education, an estimated  171 million individuals would be lifted out of poverty.

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[Data Viz] How Does Foreign Aid Work?

March 08, 2014

Today's infographic isn't one, per se; it's a Web-based "visual explainer" created by Newsbound, a San Francisco-based design and software company, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that "debunks several prominent myths about foreign aid, including the argument that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars." Part photo essay, part data vizualization, the "stack" (which was included in the foundation's 2014 annual letter) comprises twenty slides easily navigated with a mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard.

(Click here to view)

Foreignaid_explainer

What do you think? Is the less than 1 percent of the federal budget spent on foreign aid a waste of taxpayer dollars? Does foreign aid work? Or, as some argue, does it do more harm than good? And on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the Newsbound approach to a complex issue like foreign aid? Share your thoughts in the comments section below...

Venture Philanthropy and Development

March 06, 2014

(Heather Grady most recently was vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and currently is serving as an advisor to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. As a member of the Rockefeller Foundation executive team, she provided vision, leadership, and direction to help the foundation achieve its goals of building resilience and promoting equitable growth and also managed a diverse group of professionals in the U.S., Asia, and Africa working in a a range of areas, from climate change, agriculture, and health to transportation, impact investing, and employment. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Heather_grady1Venture Philanthropy in Development (90 pages, PDF), a new report from the OECD's NetFWD, charts the directions that many foundations and individual philanthropists are taking to tackle today's social, environmental, and economic challenges. While the term venture philanthropy has been around for almost half a century (credited in the report to John D. Rockefeller III, who said it was "the imaginative pursuit of less conventional charitable purposes"), it is seen as an emergent field, and there is little enough agreement on the term itself that the originators of the report gave scant attention to precisely defining it.

At a panel I moderated on the occasion of the report's launch, common dimensions of venture philanthropy were easily identified: high engagement with the grantees supported within any particular portfolio; provision of non-financial as well as financial support with a targeted group of grantees (e.g., convenings); an entrepreneurial start-up approach; a blending or even blurring of the lines between grant contributions and investments for financial return; working at a systems level to influence a combination of practice, policy, markets and even public opinion; and focusing on a positive enabling environment to achieve success.

The report is based on research from which the authors conclude that those sharing in depth their venture philanthropy experiences (the Rockefeller, Lundin, Shell, and Emirates foundations) were on a transformational journey, one that was not a "from-to" path but a much more inclusive and – as I read it – meandering one. As an integrative approach, it provides new opportunities for foundations to work with their grantees differently, and also for coalitions of foundations, civil society organizations, governments, and businesses to enter differently into shared ventures, not unlike the collective impact approach.

I learned a new term when one of the main researchers, Alexandra Stubbings, told us that the approach may force foundations to do a "drain-up" review. While that sounds fairly unpleasant, philanthropic institutions do need a good shaking out now and again.

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