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1066 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

Films Are Films: Measuring the Social Impact of Documentary Films

July 23, 2014

Movie-filmEarlier this year, the firm I founded – Aggregate – partnered with the organizers of the True/False Film Fest to conduct a survey of the filmmakers whose films screened at the festival in 2014. True/False is well-regarded among filmmakers, who often talk about how well the festival organizers treat them and the obvious regard the organizers have for the art of storytelling.

The goal of our survey was to understand how these filmmakers felt about their films' potential contribution to social change, any ambitions they had to capitalize on that potential, and their views with respect to measuring the social impact of their films. While True/False isn't specifically a social change film festival, 72 percent of the filmmakers who responded to the survey believed the film they screened at the 2014 Fest could contribute to social change.

As we were getting ready to share the outcomes of the survey, the New York Times reported on the efforts of Participant Media, the film and television production company started by Jeff Skoll, to establish an index that would enable it – and others who invest in social change films – to determine which films "spur activism" and which do not. Based on my reading of the article, the Participant Index measures the ability of a film to inspire "emotional involvement" and "provoke action." So, while a film may generate an intense emotional response, if it does not also lead people who have seen it to take action, it would receive a lower score and, perhaps, not be as well received by potential funders interested in that particular issue.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the filmmakers we surveyed expressed concern about anyone measuring the social impact of their films; indeed, two-thirds (66 percent) said they opposed the idea of using metrics to gauge the impact of their films. While I believe strongly in the value of measurement and metrics, I share some of their concerns. If, for instance, filmmakers and funders begin to weigh the "effectiveness" of films solely in terms of the actions taken in the short term by the audiences for those films, it could lead to the bankrolling of more didactic narratives about issues that lend themselves to relatively straightforward solutions. And that would be a blow to good storytelling.

My other concern is that the return-on-investment path down which many foundations and other funders of social change are headed – while paved with good intentions – will eventually lead to a wrong turn.

Despite their belief in the potential of their films to contribute to social change, 56 percent of the filmmakers we surveyed indicated they had no plans to do outreach to increase the social impact of their films. What were their reasons? More than four out of ten (42 percent) said they didn't have the time or the budget to do such outreach, while 15 percent said they didn't know where to begin.

Again, not a surprise. A few years ago, during a panel at True/False dedicated to social change films, I heard Steve James, the award-winning filmmaker of Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, and the newly released Life Itself, about the late film critic Roger Ebert, tell those in attendance that, despite the social issues addressed in many of his films, he was a filmmaker, not an advocate, and that he felt strongly that he should leave it to those who know how to make change to decide how best to use his films to do that.

I agree with James. (More) foundations should invest (more) in outreach strategies for the films they invest in in order to better take advantage of the emotional impact a good film so often has. And while filmmakers may be involved in the development of these strategies, it should be advocates with knowledge of a particular issue – including foundations' current grant recipients, when appropriate – who design those outreach strategies. Last but not least, I believe we should measure the impact of THOSE investments, using metrics that assess REAL outcomes.

Yes, let's measure the emotional impact that films create: the anger, sadness, sense of injustice, and/or empathy and admiration for those who are suffering or those who are working against the odds to create change. At the same time, let's not dismiss films that do not, on their own, provoke immediate outrage or action as being somehow less important to social change work. Think of the stories that have introduced you to new ideas, new worlds, and new people. Think of the films that have challenged your deeply held beliefs. They are no less valuable in the grand scheme of things just because they didn't cause you to sign a petition or join a protest.

"Films are films," wrote one filmmaker in response to our survey. "If they deliver a visually interesting experience, spark conversation, and inspire people to engage in new ideas, they should be considered a success. Films should not be reduced to advertisements, no matter how worthy the cause. They need to exist on their own terms. If they're good, they'll get people thinking."

That's something for which we should all be grateful.

Alison Byrne Fields is president and founder of Aggregate, a creative strategy group that works with nonprofit organizations, foundations, authors, and filmmakers to bring people and resources together to create social and policy change. This is her second post for PhilanTopic.

Weekend Link Roundup (July 19-20, 2014)

July 20, 2014

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

Education

In The Atlantic, Meredith Broussard, an assistant professor at Temple University, notes that asking poor school districts to give standardized tests inextricably tied to specific sets of books they can't afford to purchase is unfair to teachers, administrators, and students.

host of NPR's "Here & Now" program, Melinda Gates admitted that implementation of the Common Core, the national education guidelines in math and reading which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have strongly supported is the "tricky" part. "Let's be honest," Gates told Hobson.

The implementation of this is going to take some time. It has to be done carefully, it has to be done with teachers on board and they need to get some time before they can actually teach appropriately in the classroom. So you've got to make sure that the assessments and the consequences for teachers and students don’t happen immediately at the same time. And I think we got those two pieces overlapped and that’s why you got so much controversy....

Food Insecurity

A troubling article by Tracie McMillan in National Geographic finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2006 decision to track "food insecurity" instead of "hunger" -- "shifting the focus from whether people [are] literally starving to whether staying fed [is] a problem" -- has led to a startling new picture of America in which 1 in 6 Americans -- some 49 million people -- "can't count on not being hungry."

Giving

Is the primary role of charity to fight poverty? That's the question raised by Meredith Jones, president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, in a thought-provoking post on the MaineCF blog.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the "America Gives More Act" (H.R. 4719). As The Nonprofit Times reports, the package of five measures is designed to increase charitable giving by boosting the deductible limit of food donations from 10 percent to 15 percent and guaranteeing fair market value regardless of demand; allowing individuals age 70.5 or older to make gifts from their IRAs without incurring withdrawal penalties; allowing a deduction to be taken for a conservation land easement; allowing gifts made until the individual tax filing deadline (April 15) to be deducted from the prior year's taxes; and reducing the excise tax on the investments of large private foundations from a rate of 2 percent to 1 percent; the latter provision is not scheduled to take effect until 2015. No word as yet as to when the Senate plans to take up the bill.

Forbes reports that Warren Buffett had broken his personal giving record -- set last year -- with gifts of Berkshire Hathaway class B stock totaling $2.8 billion. The recipients of Buffett's generosity include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (16.59 million shares worth $2.1 billion), the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (shares worth $215 million), and the Howard G. Buffett, Sherwood, and NoVo foundations — run by his children Howard, Susan and Peter, respectively — each of which received shares of BH stock worth $150 million.

Immigration

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen looks at the latest immigration crisis and concludes that while the "list of of nonprofits stepping up to the plate is long and admirable," what "the 52,000 or so unaccompanied children already here and the 140,000 more expected in the next fiscal year [really need is] comprehensive immigration reform — nothing more, nothing less."

International Development

In the Huffington Post, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reports on a public-private initiative to help USAID better evaluate the outcomes of its programs and save the lives of more women and children around the globe.

Philanthropy

Newly installed as president of the Boston-based Barr Foundation, Jim Canales argues in an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that it's time for the field to rethink four of its stickiest "default settings" -- widely held assumptions that may be hindering its ability to make progress on key issues and problems:

  1. Obsessing over the new (and neglecting the tried and true);
  2. Too rigid a reliance on models and metrics;
  3. Going it alone; and
  4. Focusing inward.

In a post on the Rasmuson Foundation blog, Jeff Baird, a senior program associate at the foundation, explains why board giving matters.

Racial Equity

Amy Schiller argues in The Weekly Wonk that the current mania for "solutionism" -- Evgeny Morozov's term for the "intellectual pathology that recognizes problems based on just one criterion: whether they are 'solvable' with a nice and clean technological solution" -- ignores the most troubling aspects of the approach: its subversion of democracy and our collective responsibility for entrenched social problems.

Women/Girls

And on the Fast Company site, Lydia Dishman looks at seven women who have become better leaders as they have gotten older.

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

Philanthropy, Diversity, and Equity

July 15, 2014

Headshot_susan_battenIn May, the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), in partnership with the Black Philanthropic Network, released the report The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions (21 pages, PDF). The report highlights the need for leadership pipelines, development programs, and effective retention strategies targeting African-American professionals in philanthropy and was prompted by the sense here at ABFE that too many African Americans were leaving the field. Indeed, data from the Council on Foundations — though not provided in a way that enabled us to analyze trends over time — seems to support our assumption.

We've received a lot of feedback on the report, ranging from approval and a sense of deep resonance, to frustration that nothing seems to be changing, to recommendations about what should be done. Clearly, there was demand for such an analysis. 

In June, two months after we released the report, the Joint Affinity Groups celebrated its twentieth anniversary by holding a Unity Summit where six identity-based organizations — ABFE, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the Women's Funding Network, and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy — joined forces to talk about how we might work together to advance racial equity. The idea was that the field can and should do more to ensure that every individual in the United States has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. To that end, we developed a proposed definition of equity — we will have achieved equity "when one can no longer predict advantage or disadvantage based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender identity, or ability" — and further proposed that we should be able to see progress toward that goal and be able to measure reductions in disparities in well-being based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender orientation, and ability. For JAG, equity is about results, and philanthropy must play a role in shaping social and economic policy and practice to advance an equity agenda.

Continue reading »

World Cup Soccer, World-Class Philanthropy

July 11, 2014

2014-world-cup-logoAnn Coulter may hate soccer, but America's philanthropic foundations love it. For those who missed it, a recent nativist diatribe by Coulter claims that only immigrants care about the sport and that "No American whose great grandfather was born here is watching soccer." Foundations don't seem to have paid any attention to her critique, much less that of the Russian priest who, citing the brightly colored shoes worn by many soccer players, labeled the World Cup competition "a homosexual abomination."

A quick search of Foundation Directory Online found that some 80 foundations have made 2,000 soccer-related grants, the vast majority to U.S. organizations. They include a large grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation to support construction of a soccer stadium at Texas Tech. A smaller grant of $20,000 was awarded by the Philadelphia Foundation to the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy for the Army Men's Soccer Endowment. Many of the grants have a social purpose, like the Oregon Community Foundation's support for Adelante Mujeres, which uses soccer to improve the health and self-esteem of Latino girls in its programs, while here in the Northeast the Anderson Foundation made a $1.5 million program-related investment (a kind of low-cost loan) to the Players Development Academy in New Jersey for youth soccer promotion activities.

Some grants have been directly related to the World Cup itself. The Nike Foundation funded GlobalGirl Media to train South African girls to report on the 2010 World Cup in their country. And more recently, a Ford Foundation grant to a Brazilian organization supported in-depth reporting on the impact of stadium construction projects on the urban poor in advance of the 2014 World Cup.

Philanthropy is a global phenomenon with deep roots in the norms, values, and political culture of the United States.  America's foundations fund a wide range of issues, from the arts to zoology research and everything in between. Soccer is of interest to many foundations on account of its ability to attract national and global attention, spur economic development, provide opportunities for youth, and imbue in young people the values of tolerance and teamwork. And, as the Ford Foundation grant above demonstrates, foundations are not afraid to support critics of a mega-event like the World Cup when the business of global sport clashes with the rights of the poor.

Through the generosity of foundations, the lives of countless Americans have been touched by the sport known as soccer.  For two hours this Sunday, many of them will join a global community of some 600 million people that will be glued to their televisions for the World Cup final.  Philanthropy has helped make that possible.

– Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about soccer, democracy, and philanthropy.

[Infographic] The Million-Dollar Philanthropist at a Glance

July 05, 2014

It's a glorious day here in NYC, the kind of day when anything, even a transformative million-dollar gift, seems possible. Certainly, as our coverage here at PND makes abundantly clear, there have been a lot of them made over the last decade or so. But as this infographic from the folks at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI shows, the vast majority of individuals who give at this level give only once. Food for thought as you head off to your next holiday weekend cookout....

Inforgraphic_million_dollar philanthropist

Philanthropy in Brazil: An Insider’s View

July 02, 2014

Headshot_paula_fabianiThe Brazilian philanthropic landscape presents great challenges but also interesting opportunities that could result in Brazil becoming a leading force among the BRIC countries in terms of social investment.

Fueled in part by French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, wealth creation accompanied by gaping inequality has dominated the global conversation in recent months. And Brazil, which has improved on inequality measures over the last few years (one of the few countries in the world able to make that claim!), continues to be one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. That reality requires not only government but other sectors in Brazil to come up with creative solutions and structural changes that will reduce inequality. Indeed, it is why I see great opportunities for philanthropy in Brazil, both in terms of taking risks and in contributing to a more sustainable development path for the country.

In 2013, Forbes magazine identified 124 Brazilian billionaires. Most of those fortunes were concentrated among families that owned or controlled the largest companies in the country. Nevertheless, Brazil is ranked  91st (out of 135 countries) in the World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation – evidence that philanthropy has not kept pace with wealth creation over the last few years.

At the same time, the world's view of Brazil has changed, and international giving to the country has fallen fairly dramatically. According to a 2006 McKinsey report, the total amount of dollars sent from U.S. donors to Brazilian civil society organizations fell some 70 percent between 2002 and 2006. That, in turn, has led to a changed landscape for many Brazilian CSOs. According to the Associação Brasileira de Organizações Não Governamentais (ABONG) – the Brazilian association of NGOs – international funding for human rights NGOs has been replaced by funding from government and/or state-owned companies, which could pose a threat to the long-term independence of those NGOs. Moreover, as noted by Joan Spero in her report Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India and Brazil, the weakness of civil society in Brazil may inhibit giving domestically and is one of the important challenges Brazilians must address over the next decade.

Spero also notes in her report that religion and family values have played a central role in the development of charitable giving in the country. But the emergence of new trends such as individual giving (as distinct from family giving) and a growing interest in impact investing on the part of young and high-net-worth (HNW) individuals is helping to create a new dynamic that seems likely to result in new opportunities for civil society organizations and philanthropists alike.

I see myself as part of these new trends. I worked for years in the financial markets and spent many hours in conversation with brilliant people who use spreadsheets and complex formulas to create money from money. I also got married and started a family. By the time I was pregnant with my third child, I realized I wanted to focus on creating a better world for my kids – and other kids. So, with the full support of my husband, I decided to switch from the corporate world to the nonprofit world and apply the expertise in dealing with capital I had developed to employing capital to address the social and economic disparities in my country.

Continue reading »

Shaking Up Our Assumptions With an 'Un-Survey'

July 01, 2014

Headshot_bob_pullinWe're all inundated with information in today's super-saturated media environment, so as we begin the redesign of the Ford Foundation website we have to ask ourselves: "Why would the social changemakers we want to reach spend time on our site to begin with?"

To answer that question, we decided to turn the traditional online survey model on its head and let our audiences ask us questions instead of the other way around. We called it the Un-Survey.

The Un-Survey is an experiment that we hoped could help us:

  • Unearth the kinds of information our audiences would find valuable.
  • Deliver on our commitment to transparency in a way that is genuinely useful to others. (Transparency can't be limited to only what we want to share — we have to share what our audiences want to know.)
  • Foster a creative environment that helps break down the boundaries between those inside and outside the foundation.

Since we launched the Un-Survey six weeks ago, visitors have submitted over a hundred and twenty questions, and those questions have changed the way we think about our audiences' interests and needs and inspired us to pursue new ideas about our website's content and functionality.

What's been especially great is the fact that the questions are astute and address specific details about Ford's approach to social change and the practice of philanthropy. (They are also remarkably on topic, which is not always the case when a foundation opens itself to a broad community.) We've shared the higher-level questions with our leadership team, and they've found them to be illuminating as well.

Blogging about the launch of the Un-Survey, Janet Camarena, director of Foundation Center's San Francisco office, summed up our intention well: "We are all being invited to be thought partners of the Ford Foundation." We knew we were crowdsourcing input from a very smart audience, but the quality of that thought partnership has exceeded our expectations, with some questions building on earlier ones and making the sum greater than the parts. And because the questions are available for any other interested foundations to read, we can all tap into the creative and diverse thinking of the social changemakers who participated.

What We've Learned

The Un-Survey helped us deepen our empathy for our audience. We can now put ourselves more fully into our website visitors' shoes, and — even more exciting — we now have a clearer sense of their aspirations for us:

  • They would like to see greater collaboration within the funder and grantee communities around shared goals, with Ford helping to facilitate.
  • Our community is asking us to more fully explain how we conceive of and execute our role as a philanthropic institution.
  • They are eager for us to share more about our progress — not only about our successes but also about what is not working.

We hope our social change audiences see the Un-Survey as an opportunity to have a meaningful influence on the next version of our website. And we know what the real measure of this experiment will be: whether we deliver on what our audiences asked for. That's our next big challenge —and it's one we're excited to take on.

Bob Pullin is chief of digital engagement at the Ford Foundation, where he is focused on using digital technology to help build relationships with the foundation's key audiences. This post originally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2014)

June 30, 2014

Summer -- and the World Cup -- are heating up. Before you head out for that well-deserved vacation, here's another chance to catch up on some of the great content we posted in June....

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

Weekend Link Roundup (June 21-22, 2014)

June 22, 2014

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

Climate Change

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury secretary (2006-09)  Henry Paulson argues that in order to meet "the challenge of our time" (i.e., climate change), the U.S. needs to "plac[e] a tax on carbon dioxide emissions," phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and renewable energy ("Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for"), and work hand-in-hand with China to transition to a global economy powered by clean energy.

Giving

The 2014 edition of the Giving USA report was released on Tuesday, and as usual, writes the AP's David Crary, "Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors."

Higher Education

Affirmative action as we know it is doomed, writes David Leonhardt on the New York Times' Upshot blog. "Five of the Supreme Court's nine justices have never voted in favor of a race-based affirmative action program," he notes, while "eight states have already banned race-based affirmative action, and four additional ones, including Ohio and Missouri, may consider bans soon." But maybe a system based on income and/or high school class rank rather than income is a better solution at this moment in history. "Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court, has signaled some openness to letting institutions consider race," Leonhardt writes,

so long as race doesn't dominate their decisions. And in today's version of affirmative action, race dominates. The standard way that colleges judge any potential alternative is to ask whether it results in precisely the same amount of racial diversity, rather than acknowledging that other forms of diversity also matter.

"An affirmative action based mostly on class, and using race in narrowly tailored ways, is one much more likely to win approval from Justice Kennedy when the issue inevitably returns to the court.

"The next move belongs to those who believe in affirmative action. They can continue to hope against hope that the status quo will somehow hold. Or they can begin to experiment — and maybe end up with a fairer system than the current one."

 

Continue reading »

Social Innovation With Our Eyes Wide Open

June 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Philanthropy in Russia: An Insider’s View

June 18, 2014

Headshot_maria_chertokCharitable giving and philanthropy in Russia is slightly more than twenty years old. It all started in early 1990 with a number of newly established companies that gave to all sorts of issues on an ad hoc basis. A few years later, in 1997, CAF Russia helped Rosbank establish the first corporate giving program in the country. In the years since, Russian-based companies have become a lot more thoughtful and strategic in their philanthropy, adopting corporate sustainability ideas from the West and developing longer-term approaches to their social investments.

The second wave of philanthropic institutions to appear in Russia were community foundations, the first of which was founded in 1998 in Togliatti. Today, there are something like forty-five community foundations across the country, and a report issued by CAF Russia found that over the last ten years they had invested more than $16.5 million in their communities [1]

The third stage of philanthropy's development in Russia involved the appearance of private and family foundations. In her recent report on philanthropy in the BRIC countries, Joan Spero lists the most prominent of them, including the Potanin Foundation and Dmitri Zimin's Dynasty Foundation, both of which were founded about a dozen years ago.

Not to be overlooked, all of this institutional philanthropy is augmented by middle class giving and volunteering, which in Russia is growing fairly rapidly.

So, there's no question that, over the  past two decades, philanthropy in Russia has come a long way. Nevertheless, asset and giving totals are still relatively modest. You won't find many figures in Spero's report because, as she correctly notes, very little data on assets and giving is available – and even less is available in English. In terms of individual giving, both the CAF World Giving Index [2] and domestic researchers agree that only around 5 percent to 7 percent of the population in Russia gives to nongovernmental or civil society organizations on a regular basis, which is quite low compared with Brazil (23 percent in 2013), India (28 percent) and even China (10 percent). And as far as organized philanthropy is concerned, the seventy Russian foundations that shared their data for a report recently published by the Russian Donors Forum [3], including the largest private and corporate foundations in the country, had an average annual budget in 2012 of 180 million rubles (equivalent to $6 million) – hardly an impressive figure compared to foundation grantmaking budgets in other large countries. 

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NGO Aid Map: See More. Do Better.

June 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_montgomeryThere are certain moments in your life that you never forget. Some of mine include graduating from college, buying a home, and having a baby. The same thing happens in one's career, and for me, Wednesday was one of those moments.

For the past six years, InterAction has been using online maps to help tell our members’ story. Wednesday was important because we launched a new global map on InterAction's NGO Aid Map, one that will allow us to tell this story as it applies to all countries and all sectors.

As the world of development actors continues to grow and expand, it is more important than ever to make aid smarter. One way to help improve aid is through data sharing, but in the midst of a data revolution, how does one make sense of it all?

It may sound simple, but gathering up-to-date, standardized data from NGOs is no small feat, even for InterAction — an alliance made up of more than one hundred and eighty individual organizations working to advance human dignity and fight poverty around the world.

Collecting data is one thing, but ensuring that it stays relevant, useful, and accessible is a massive undertaking. That is why we built the NGO Aid Map, an online platform that demonstrates, using maps and other data visualizations, where our members work and what they do around the world. Through data, we can help determine whether we are on the right track to fighting poverty.

Screenshot_NGO_AidMap

Now that you know why Wednesday mattered to me, I'd like to share five reasons why NGO Aid Map should matter to you:

Continue reading »

Game-Changing Philanthropy Through Funder Collaboration

June 12, 2014

Headshot_bossiere_corvingtonPhilanthropy has spent decades focused on achieving good outcomes with not enough to show when it comes to population-level impact on intergenerational poverty. It's clear that to achieve better results, we need to change the way we do our work.

As we ask nonprofits to collaborate to ensure better alignment and more secure hand-offs between and among programs, we funders have got to be prepared to do the same.

Fortunately, there are a number of foundations that have already figured this out. In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation asked a dozen fellow funders — banks, insurance companies, family foundations, and the local United Way — to align their grantmaking with the goal of ensuring that every child in the community enters fourth grade reading at grade level. Thanks to those efforts, the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success has supported a variety of tutoring, afterschool, and summer learning programs.

In Iowa, the ten foundations in the Education Funders Network have agreed to jointly fund an early reading initiative, starting with a summer learning push that is being rolled out this month in communities across the state. In Arizona, the state's leading philanthropic organizations have joined with public agencies and more than five dozen community nonprofits to create Read On Arizona, an effort aimed at improving language and literacy outcomes for children from birth through age 8.

These efforts give lie to the social-sector adage that "collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults." Together, these foundations are pushing through the discomfort that comes with yielding control of the agenda and are diving into the messy work of shared accountability and elevated expectations.

What's more, they're directing their energy toward one of the biggest problems our nation faces: the fact that four-fifths of children from low-income families have not learned to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade.

This is a problem with grave consequences. Third grade marks the point where the curriculum shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who don't reach that critical milestone often struggle in the later grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. Too often, even in good schools with effective teachers, these are the children least likely to succeed, because they are too far behind when they start, miss too many days of school, and lose too much ground over the summer.

Continue reading »

Football (Soccer), Democracy, and Philanthropy

June 10, 2014

World cup clothingEarlier this month I was in Brazil, a country preparing itself to host the biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup. The sport is what we call soccer, but the rest of the world knows it as football and nobody plays it better than Brazil. The U.S. made it through the grueling two-year process to qualify, but no one expects the team to get very far in the competition. When you see how obsessed Brazilians are with football, you can understand why they're so good at it. One small indicator: my sister-in-law bought very stylish Brazilian football outfits so her six-month-old twin granddaughters will be ready for June 12 when Brazil opens the tournament against Croatia. If Brazil wins its sixth World Cup, the celebration will be on a scale that's unimaginable for most of us — it will make the Super Bowl look like a Sunday school retreat.

If you've been following World Cup news, you are undoubtedly aware that Brazil's plan to showcase to the world its culture, growing economic power, and social progress has not exactly gone as planned. Demonstrations, some of them violent, protesting the expenditure of billions of dollars for luxurious new stadiums and the accompanying forced removal of slum dwellers have filled the streets. Meanwhile, the country continues to be plagued by poor health care, inadequate infrastructure, and urban violence. The phenomenon of its football-obsessed citizenry protesting Brazil's hosting of the World Cup took the government by surprise and has caused a political crisis: there is growing criticism of endemic corruption, and the country's president, once a shoe-in for reelection, now faces a tough race. The crisis goes even deeper, however, as growing dissatisfaction with politicians and government institutions morphs into a kind of repudiation of politics and business as usual.

As painful as this is for Brazil and Brazilians, it shows how far democracy in the country has come. In 1970, Brazil's then-military government cynically promoted the Brazilian football team's march to its third World Cup championship (Mexico was the host country) to distract attention from a wave of internal repression. Years later, as the dictatorship was losing its grip on power, the tactic was exposed in a banned Brazilian film (though no one dared criticize the dictatorship at the time). Today, as a democratic Brazil prepares to host the Cup for a second time (the first was in 1950), people are protesting in the streets, the media is filled with exposés, political parties are battling it out in the media and Congress, and a young Brazilian has made a YouTube video entitled “No, I’m not Going to the World Cup” that has been downloaded more than 4.2 million times.

Continue reading »

Have Foundations Recovered From the Great Recession?

June 09, 2014

The answer seems straightforward. According to a preview of the forthcoming edition of Key Facts on U.S. Foundations, estimated foundation giving reached nearly $55 billion last year, a record. That was close to $8 billion more than in 2008 — the peak year for foundation giving before the economic downturn. Even after adjusting for inflation, the country's independent, corporate, community, and operating foundations gave $3.5 billion more in 2013 than they did in 2008. All good, right?

Well, mostly. But helping to boost the overall giving figure were close to 11,000 more foundations — some of them quite large — than we tracked in 2008, as well as approximately $2.8 billion more in product giving by about a dozen operating and corporate foundations created by pharmaceutical manufacturers to distribute medications. What's more, 35 percent of the independent and family foundations that responded to our recent "Foundation Giving Forecast Survey" indicated that they reduced their giving in 2013. In similar years past, a typical figure was 25 percent or less.

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With a gravity-defying stock market, why hasn't foundation giving recovered faster? In part, because foundation giving didn't tank after the 2008 economic meltdown. The 17 percent drop in foundation assets in 2008 was followed by a roughly 2 percent decline in giving the following year. Looking to provide a secure source of support for struggling grantees, a number of foundations held their giving steady or reduced their giving by far less than the decline in their assets. As the assets of these foundations have  recovered, their payout rates have also returned to more typical levels. The takeaway: foundations are an important source of stability during challenging and volatile economic times.

And the picture for 2014 looks even brighter. Foundation Center projects that independent and family foundations, which account for roughly nine out of 10 U.S. foundations, will increase their giving by 7 percent this year. And while we're forecasting a smaller increase for corporate and community foundations, overall giving in 2014 undoubtedly will outpace inflation.

Have foundations recovered from the Great Recession? As of today, we're willing to say "pretty much." And we're confident they'll be there for grantees when the next one comes.

Steven Lawrence is director of research at Foundation Center and author of the annual Key Facts on U.S. Foundations report. Looking for more data? Check out Foundation Stats, the most comprehensive resource available for generating tables and charts on the size, scope, and giving priorities of the U.S. foundation community.

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