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1179 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

The Parting Glass

July 30, 2015

Jane_Schwartz_Paul RapoportIn 2009, when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then worked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant proposals, and help grantees develop viable exit strategies once our final multiyear grants had concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and our grantmaking was at an end. After twenty-seven years of supporting all the major organizations in New York's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities — providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period — the actual closing date was upon us.

Throughout the preceding decades the foundation's board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out phase. When they realized our closing was imminent, all of them — either formally or informally — reached out and urged us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff but for our grantees as well. So while we had had the idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, holding a final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the sad realities of closing.

The result was a farewell party to which all our grantees were invited — not only current staff but former grantee staff members who had worked so closely with us to develop successful grant proposals in the early years of the LGTB community's growth. We also invited fellow grantmakers from private and public funding sources who had traveled with the foundation on its journey from the early days when it was one of a very few foundations funding AIDS programs in New York to our final years of making grants specifically to organizations serving LGTB communities of color. And, of course, we invited our own former board members who had worked so thoughtfully and hard to create the foundation and its funding strategies over the years.

We also realized that the history of the foundation's funding tracked the development of the LGTB community in New York, and so we decided to create an illustrated timeline highlighting the important developments of that community over the past three decades. Among other things, this allowed us to show how closely the foundation had monitored these community developments and adjusted its grantmaking strategies to support the community's changing needs. The publication, which included dozens of grantee photographs, also showcased the vast majority of our grantees and served as our souvenir program for the event, which turned out to be a cocktail party in an inviting rooftop garden setting that allowed folks to sit and reconnect with colleagues they may not have seen in decades. Throughout the evening, the same refrains were repeated over and over:

"Oh my goodness, I haven't seen you since…" Or:

"I can’t believe it…is that...?"

The event clearly underscored the important role our grantee organizations had played in the development of the LGTB communities in New York, and it allowed the foundation to thank its grantees, as well as our terrific board members, past and present, for the wonderful work they had done over so many years. During the "formal" portion of the evening's program, we also announced the foundation's "legacy grant"— to Equal Justice Works — and invited one of the first recipients of the Paul Rapoport Fellowship, a young LGTB lawyer of color, to describe the work he would be doing over the next two years in the field of public interest law. It is our hope that the fellowship will continue to keep Paul's name alive in the LGTB community for decades to come while also providing much-needed legal advocacy to underserved communities of color.

Looking back, I would say that the outpouring of good feeling and best wishes on that night transformed what, for many, was an otherwise painful end to something we had loved into a proud occasion, and it helped us close our doors on a decidedly upbeat note.

(Photo credit: Philip Greenberg for the New York Times)

Jane D. Schwartz was executive director of the Paul Rapoport Foundation. This post, the twenty-third in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series produced by GrantCraft in partnership with the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, originally was published on the GrantCraft blog. Use the #spenddown hashtag to comment on the post (and series) below and on Twitter.

[Review] How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World

July 29, 2015

Book_how_to_be_great_at_doing_good_for_PhilanTopicThere are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and in 2013 over 62 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours to charitable causes. Given these statistics, you might think we were well on our way to a world in which caring people are significantly improving the lives of people in need. According to the World Bank, however, more than a billion people globally live in extreme poverty, and each year over 2.6 million children die of hunger-related causes. It's enough to make one wonder whether charity does any good.

In How to Be Great at Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World, animal rights activist Nick Cooney offers an antidote to such cynicism in the form of a "complacency-shattering guidebook for anyone who wants to actually change the world, whether as a donor, a volunteer, or a nonprofit staffer." 

In the book, Cooney addresses the misconceptions that persistently prevent donors and volunteers from "succeeding" in their charitable endeavors. He tells us, for example, that most people see charity as

a warm, fuzzy thing and that as long as our intentions are good we should be applauded. We are not taught to think rigorously about our approach. We are not taught how to succeed at doing good, or even that success is what matters. So we aren't in the habit of making calculated decisions when it comes to doing good....

But what do we mean by "success"? "The measure of success for charities," Cooney writes, is not an "up or down vote on whether they are making the world a better place." The question is, or should be, how much good can a charity accomplish. It's not a revolutionary — or even new — idea, but if pursued to its logical conclusion, it requires donors, volunteers, and nonprofit practitioners to make some tough decisions. If we really want to change the world and include as many individuals as possible in that change, we need to completely rethink the way we do our work.

For nonprofits to become more efficient, Cooney argues, they first need to establish a "bottom line" that reflects their "cost per good done." It could be something like the "cost per HIV infection prevented," or "the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions prevented." Not that establishing such metrics is easy. A study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that "even among the largest foundations...only 8 percent had any data whatsoever that showed how successful they'd been at achieving a defined goal." 

Cooney uses Habitat for Humanity, which works to provide "decent housing to as many people as possible," to illustrate what this might look like in practice. Habitat, which mostly operates in the United States but also has operations in developing countries, could lower its "cost per" by shifting even more of its activities to developing countries, where building costs are much lower. If it did so, the question for the organization then would become how "to balance the fact that overseas construction has a dramatically lower 'cost per family housed' with the fact that donors might reduce their giving as a higher and higher percentage of [Habitat's] work [took place] abroad." Cooney's answer is to "shift more and more construction overseas until the number of families the organization was able to house began to drop." He understands, of course, that the organization is unlikely to follow his advice, for any number of reasons: change is hard; it's easier for people to empathize with those in need in their own communities; charities have little appetite for risk, especially when it comes to their revenue.

If shifting more of its programming abroad presents Habitat with multiple challenges, Cooney believes other organizations need to make even more drastic changes. He cites the Make-A-Wish Foundation as an example of a charity that could accomplish its goal — to alleviate the suffering of children with life-threatening illnesses — far more efficiently, and to make his point he contrasts it with the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), which treats schistosomiasis, a debilitating but easily preventable tropical disease. Through its activities, the Make-A-Wish Foundation makes sick children happier for a few days, whereas treating schistosomiasis in regions where it is endemic prevents a lifetime of debilitating chronic illness for a far greater number of children. In fact, it costs SCI less than a dollar per child to treat the disease, while Cooney estimates that Make-A-Wish spends $19,000 "per sick child made temporarily much happier."

If Make-A-Wish really wanted to succeed at its goal of helping children, he argues, it could allocate a percentage of its budget to treating diseases such as schistosomiasis. And if that resulted in a falloff in donations from an American public that is less interested in funding children's health initiatives in Africa than in granting wishes for dying children here at home — well, so be it; the measurable increase in lives changed for the better would be worth it. Indeed, in Cooney's view, every year the Make-A-Wish Foundation decides not to make such a change, it "[condemns] to a lifetime of debilitation" thousands of children it could have otherwise saved from a preventable disease.

"While a significant shift in program funding like this may have to be rolled out slowly," he adds, "in practical terms it is very doable." What's more, it's been done before by the likes of the YMCA and the American Cancer Society. Make-A-Wish officials might argue that such a change would come at the expense of the organization's brand identity and the goodwill it has built up over decades of operation. Cooney will have none of it, arguing that maintaining a "consistent [brand] identity" is far less important, and less urgent, than helping as many sick children as possible.

Furthermore, if our main priority is to make the world a better place, he writes, then we all need to recognize that we have an important role to play in incentivizing nonprofits to become more efficient. For Cooney, that means supporting organizations that prioritize a lower "cost per" over a "consistent identity, setting up a free-market-style competition among organizations that further drives down their costs and results in more people who need help being helped." Donors also need to spend more time researching a charity's effectiveness — although such an approach is not without problems. The biggest, of course, is that the data needed to determine nonprofit effectiveness is hard to come by. While overhead costs are easy enough to find (through sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator), overhead has little to do with effectiveness. An organization can spend an exorbitant amount on overhead while still maintaining a low "cost per good done" if it carries out its programming efficiently. Cooney's solution to the problem is for nonprofits to work harder to provide data that demonstrates their effectiveness — and for funders and donors to incentivize nonprofits to do that.

The bigger problem, however, is that not all charity work is created equal. Indeed, for Cooney, charity is a zero-sum game. If one donates to a local arts organization instead of to the Seva Foundation, which works to prevent blindness in twenty countries, he or she is in effect "condemning" people to blindness. The idea that "it's all needed" or that all charitable dollars are well spent rings hollow when one considers the extreme levels of suffering in the world. And that means we need to prioritize our giving, because "each of us has a very limited amount of time, money, and energy to devote to charity."

It's an idea that many readers of his book will object to. Likewise, Cooney's insistence that "bias" is what causes people to not support the most cost-effective program — that is, the program that helps the greatest number of people for the least amount of money, regardless of where those people live or other needs closer to home — will be rejected by many who see investments in one's community as both critical and appropriate. Who could blame residents of America's poorest cities, for example, for wanting to donate to local programs, even if doing so is less "cost-effective" in the global scheme of things?

These are relatively minor objections, however, to Cooney's otherwise compelling arguments. For those committed to making the world a better place, How to Be Great at Doing Good is a book that deserves to be read and widely discussed.

Mirielle Clifford is an editorial assistant at Foundation Center in New York.

We're There When You Need Us

July 21, 2015

Money-treeDo you expect your street to be plowed after a big storm? Yep. Do you expect that bridge to remain standing as you drive over it? Of course. Do you expect the folks at the 911 hotline number to pick up every time you call? Without question. Do you take the existence of all this publicly-supported infrastructure for granted? Most likely.

The same is true for the infrastructure serving the social sector. Philanthropists and nonprofits depend every day on hundreds of organizations around the globe that serve the needs of the field. Organizations such as Independent Sector, Grantmakers in Health, the Michigan Nonprofit Association, and the European Foundation Centre are there to make connections, answer questions, and, in myriad other ways, facilitate the work of the sector.

So, how do they keep their doors open? Up to now there was no comprehensive picture of what support for "infrastructure organizations" looked like and how that funding was faring relative to other grantmaker priorities. But thanks to a new Foundation Center analysis (22 pages, PDF) prepared at the request of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we now know more.

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Knowledge Is Power: LGBTQI and Human Rights Funders, Disaggregate Your Data!

July 20, 2015

Lgbt-handprintWhen several LGBTQI funders set out in 2013 to better understand the landscape of funding for trans* human rights, our first stop was the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center's groundbreaking data set on global human rights funding. To our surprise, we found very little information about funding for trans* people specifically. When I went looking last month for data on funding dedicated to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, I found the same gap. This, I realized, is because most foundations report their funding for "LGBT" people as just that: "LGBT."

We know, however, that the LGBT acronym masks a huge diversity of communities, needs, and human rights priorities. Lesbian and queer women may be more concerned with addressing family violence or changing cultural narratives about sexuality than overturning a colonial sodomy law. Trans* activists may be focused on ending the discriminatory policing of trans* women of color or passing laws that allow people to self-determine their legal gender. Intersex activists are seeking specific protections against non-consensual genital surgeries and other rights-violating medical interventions on intersex bodies. From Astraea’s nearly forty years of supporting queer and trans activism with a racial, economic, and gender justice lens, we also know that foundation funding for LGBTQI rights does not match this diversity of agendas. Without dedicated attention to lesbian and queer women, trans*, and intersex folks, "LGBT" too often means the leadership and priorities of cisgender gay men.

Without attention to other identities we hold, "LGBT" also often means the more privileged aspects of our movements in terms of race, class, and age. It would be easy to look at the LGBT funding dedicated to marriage equality in the U.S., for example, and say that our work is getting done. But we know that LGBTQI justice will only come when all people experience legal and lived equality, and when we are all free from hatred, discrimination, and violence. That is why we need an LGBTQI agenda that dismantles racial, gender, and economic inequality, and why we need to look not only at the gender breakdown of "LGBT" but also the proportion of funding that supports organizing by and for communities of color, as well as poor and working-class folks. Our data must reflect the intersectional reality of our lives and our movements.

This year's Advancing Human Rights report tells us that LGBT funding represented 5 percent of all foundation human rights dollars in 2012 and has held relatively steady over the past three years. If we are going to meet the demand from growing LGBTQI movements pursuing human rights around the world, we absolutely need to grow the overall pie. But we should also look at where the funding available to us is going. Which constituencies are receiving support? Whose agendas are they funding and amplifying?

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 18-July 19, 2015)

July 19, 2015

Old-slip-watermarkedOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

On the Bloomberg Business site, Alex Nussbaum reports that a new study released by the Analysis Group, a Boston-based consulting company, found that a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide generated $1.3 billion in benefits for nine U.S. states, created more than 14,000 new jobs in the Northeast, and saved consumers $460 million on their electric bills over the past three years.

Education

No Child Left Behind, the education policy overhaul introduced by George W. Bush in 2000, has more critics than supporters. But no one in Congress knows how to fix it. Mother Jones' Allie Gross reports.

Fundraising

The economy is recovering (slowly), but your fundraising results remain stuck in second gear. Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks shares some thoughts on what organizations do — and don't do — to create their own fundraising recessions.

Higher Education

Should public university-affiliated private foundations be subject to state public-records laws? Of course they should, write Jonathan Peters and Jackie Spinner in the Columbia Journalism Review. In fact, courts "should cut through any artifice and conclude that a university-affiliated foundation that exists for the purpose of serving the university and performing public functions is an arm of the state and accountable to its citizens....[And] foundations should view those laws as a floor rather than a ceiling, making it a policy to release more than simply the minimum required by law.... "

International Development

The United Nations will commit to new Sustainable Development Goals in September. In advance of the launch of the SDGs, the folks at the Global Partnership for Education have put together a nice post explaining how education is essential to the success of every one of the seventeen goals.

Philanthropy

What do Bill and Melinda Gates talk about in the privacy of their home? New York Times columnist Nick Kristof asked them. And on LinkedIn, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan explains what Bill and Melinda — and other modern philanthropists — do better than their distinguished predecessors in the field.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 11-12, 2015)

July 12, 2015

Alexander-hamilton-duelOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civil Society

In a guest essay for Civicus, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, argues that the international development community's "obsession with quantifiable impact, and frequently dogmatic adherence to discrete deliverables, undercuts the expansive purpose of [civil society organizations], miniaturizing them in their ambition...[and] distort[ing] and inhibit[ing], rather than unleash[ing], the potential of civil society." Walker continues: "If we believe in the work that CSOs are doing — and we should — then [donors] must help usher in a new era of capacity-building investment, for institutions, and the individuals who comprise them...."

Data

"Given the nature of digital data (generative, remixable, scalable, storable, copyable, etc), it's hard to see how the current nonprofit corporate governance structures provide much assurance that these assets will be used for good," muses Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.

Giving

"The best way to activate positive-emotion circuits in the brain is through generosity." Kathy Gilsanan, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has announced an annual gift of Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares totaling $2.8 billion to the five foundations he pledged his fortune to back in 2006. As has been the case since Buffett made his pledge, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation received the bulk of the shares, with smaller amounts going to foundations run by his three children and the foundation established by his first wife, Susan, who died in 2004. The Wall Street Journal has the details.

As generous, elegant, and carefully thought through as it may be, the Buffett style of philanthropy is in "the process of being re-formulated by a new generation of capitalists, many of whom earned their fortunes disrupting traditional business models." John G. Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, explains.

In a post on the Oxford University Press blog, Ed Zelinsky (The Origins of the Ownership Society: How The Defined Contribution Paradigm Changed America), the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University, outlines the continuing benefits (and costs) of the Giving Pledge.

The folks at Eleventy Marketing Group have pulled together a list of key findings from the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, which details how millennial employees "engage in cause work with the companies they work for — and the factors that influence their engagement and involvement in philanthropy programs."

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Seven Charitable Foundation Rules: Myth and Reality

July 10, 2015

Myth-vs-FactFederal statutes and regulations that apply to charitable foundations are complex and frequently misunderstood. To add to the confusion, they often are counterintuitive. Here are just a few examples of rules governing foundation grantmaking that I, on numerous occasions, have found to be misconstrued or misunderstood:

Myth No. 1: Foundations are only permitted to support 501(c)(3) organizations.

Reality: As long as foundations comply with certain legal requirements, they are permitted to make grants for charitable purposes to a range of organizations and entities. For example, if the foundation undertakes a preliminary inquiry, both the grantor and the grantee commit in writing to comply with reporting requirements, and the prospective grant recipient commits in writing that the funds will be expended for charitable purposes, the foundation can legally make grants for charitable purposes to government agencies and even for-profit corporations.

Myth No. 2: Foundations are not permitted to support the development, publication, or distribution of materials that comment on positions taken by candidates in election campaigns or on positive or negative features of pending legislation.

Reality: Foundations are permitted to provide financial support to organizations for the preparation of voter information guides and educational materials about proposed legislation and other issues of public interest. Voter information guides must refer to each candidate's views on a cross-section of issues and include a fair and unbiased analysis of other positions. Educational materials supported by foundation dollars must present all sides of the issue in question and be sufficiently balanced to enable readers or listeners to form their own opinions. Foundations are not permitted to reveal their own positions or preferences with respect to an issue in such materials.

Myth No. 3: Foundations are required to receive and retain a grantee organization's written acknowledgement for any gift in excess of $250.

Reality: The $250 written acknowledgment rule applies to payers of income tax such as individuals and for-profit corporations, but not to foundations — which are exempt from income taxes. So long as a foundation retains proof of the support it has given to a grantee organization (such as a canceled check), it need not seek or retain that grantee organization's written acknowledgment of a gift.

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Funding the Marriage Equality Movement: Lessons in Collaboration and Risk Taking

July 06, 2015

Rainbow-flagThe marriage equality movement in the United States has been fueled by the strategic and coordinated efforts of legal groups, advocacy organizations, and a small but active community of grantmakers. The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 to extend marriage equality nationwide was preceded by a gradual legislative sea change and a dramatic shift in public opinion. In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed the idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, polls showed a reversal of the numbers, with 57 percent of Americans favoring marriage equality.

One of the key funders behind this shift was the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC), an initiative of the Proteus Fund that has partnered with individual donors and foundations to award roughly $2 million in grants each year since 2004 for a broad range of publicly visible education activities aimed at advancing marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it's worth looking closer at how CMC, as a funder collaborative, contributed to the success of the marriage equality movement. The CMC story also offers lessons about the role philanthropy can play in advocacy, as well as how funders can collaborate and take risks to achieve greater impact.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, federal law defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. By 2004, marriage equality had gained traction with a number of key legislative wins, including the approval of civil unions in Vermont, which granted same-sex couples some (but not all) of the legal benefits of marriage, and a landmark victory in Massachusetts that made it the first state in the U.S. to uphold the right of LGBT couples to marry. But it was also a year of setbacks for the movement, as a series of same-sex marriage bans were passed in thirteen states. According to CMC director Paul A. Di Donato, it was around this time that some grantmakers began to realize that achieving a critical mass of support for marriage equality would require greater engagement by the philanthropic community, not just a few relationships between individual foundations and big national players. With that in mind, a group of funders, including the Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Proteus Fund (as a convener), came together around the idea that pooling financial resources and sharing collective knowledge could lead to broader change. Subsequently, they agreed to test the waters as a funder collaborative for a few years to see whether same-sex marriage would continue to gain traction as an issue. In 2007, when Di Donato joined CMC, same-sex marriage was still at the top of the LGBT agenda and the collaborative's members were still deeply committed to supporting public education activities aimed at advancing that agenda.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 4-5, 2015)

July 05, 2015

Grateful-dead-50th-anniversary-logo-stickerOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

"Indicators of America’s flagging democratic engagement abound," writes Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, in an op-ed on the Fox News site. And a key reason, says Merisotis, is that America is "losing its edge when it comes to talent – the knowledge, skills and values that lead to success in our lives and careers." What's more, the decline in talent not only serves as a drag on the economy, it affects the quality of our democracy. "Without opportunities to cultivate their talent," writes Merisotis, "Americans are left with few prospects to move up the economic ladder. That creates a sense of hopelessness and apathy, which in turn has a dampening effect on Americans’ willingness to vote and engage. And without such involvement, democracy’s power wanes."

Fundraising

"[T]apping into your network and empowering your people is how the [fundraising] magic happens (especially with big fundraising events like #GivingTuesday)," writes Caryn Stein, vice president for communications and content at Network for Good. And this year, she adds, there are "two things you absolutely must do for a truly successful #GivingTuesday campaign: 1) identify your team and 2) activate your community.  While you're at it, be sure to check out our Q&A with 92nd Street Y executive director Henry Timms, the "father of #GivingTuesday." 

Joanne Fitz is hosting the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival on her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog and is looking for posts on a topic of great interest to all nonprofit leaders: year-end fundraising. To be included in the final roundup, you have to have first published a post or article on your own blog. Then submit it by Saturday, July 25, to Joanne at nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com. Joanne will review all submissions and pick the best to feature in a round-up post on July 28. Good luck!

International Affairs/Development

Writing in the Huffington Post, Suzanne Skees looks at efforts by the Grameen Foundation to design disruptive mobile solutions "to the kind of poverty that's most challenging to reach, in remote rural areas, and to the poorest of the poor."

Nonprofits

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some behavioral ways by which to assess whether or not a quality partnership exists between the board and CEO.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2015)

July 01, 2015

Book reviews from two of our favorite contributors, a timely look at the future of community foundations from Silicon Valley Community Foundation president Emmett Carson, a thought-provoking post on the relationship between philanthropy and inequality by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, a cool infographic from CECP and the Conference Board, and great advice for nonprofits from Claire Axelrad and Bethany Lampland — all that and more helped make June the second-busiest month ever at PhilanTopic. Best of all, you've got a long holiday weekend to catch up on the good stuff you may have missed. Have a happy and safe Fourth!

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 27-28, 2015)

June 28, 2015

Supreme_court Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

"For young and old alike," a new poll suggests, "debt now looms as a major factor in setting their life course. An identical 38 percent of both young and older respondents said that in making decisions such as when to get married, buy a home, or have children, debt had affected their choices 'a great deal'. Nancy Cook, a correspondent for National Journal, reports for The Atlantic.

Fundraising

On the Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Jennifer Chandler, vice president and director of network support and knowledge sharing at the National Council of Nonprofits, shares some thoughts on how new rules issued by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could "make life less stressful for nonprofit fundraising professionals and development directors."

In a post on the Software Advice blog, Janna Finch, a market research associate at the firm, shares key findings from a report based on a recent survey of nonprofit event planners.

Giving

Is charitable giving really at a record high? On the CNBC website, Kelley Holland takes a closer look at the numbers.

Higher Education

Meredith Kolodner, a staff writer for the Hechinger Report, checks in with a deeply researched look at merit-based scholarship programs, which, studies show, "disproportionately benefit middle- and upper-income students and have little impact on college graduation rates.

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[Infographic] Impact Investing Opportunities

June 27, 2015

Impact investing is an activity "that aims to generate a specific social or environmental benefit in addition to financial gain." Previously the domain of institutional investors, over the last five years it has begun to attract the attention of foundations and high-net-worth individuals and, according to the team at Getting Smart, has powered a revolution in ed tech. In addition to outlining basic considerations for donors thinking about making an impact investment and listing ten education investment categories, our infographic of the week (courtesy of Getting Smart) includes a link to a paper (38 pages, PDF) that identifies twenty-five impact investment opportunities in K-12 education.

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[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

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5 Questions for...Vic De Luca, President, Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation

June 23, 2015

The Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation was established in 1947 by Charles Noyes, a real estate developer in Manhattan, in honor of his wife, Jessie Smith, herself a women's suffrage and civil rights activist. Initially, Noyes set up the foundation to provide scholarships, with half earmarked for non-white students. In the 1990s, the family decided to change course and began to provide funding more directly to organizations working on issues in which they had an interest. Today, most of its support goes to grassroots organizations and movements in the United States working "to change environmental, social, economic, and political conditions to bring about a more just, equitable, and sustainable world."

Recently, PND chatted with Vic De Luca, who joined the foundation in 1991 and has been its president since 2000, about its donor-advised campaign, a new initiative aimed at convincing donors to make more timely allocations from their donor-advised funds.

Headshot_vic-de-lucaPhilanthropy News Digest: The Noyes Foundation recently launched a campaign around the timely distribution of monies from donor-advised funds. Why is the distribution of funds from DAFs suddenly an issue?

Vic De Luca: Donor-advised funds have been around a long time, administered in many cases by community foundations, but they started to become really popular among donors in the 1990s after mutual fund companies like Fidelity and Vanguard began to offer them, and by the early 2000s their popularity was off the charts. One of the reasons for their popularity is that contributions to a donor-advised fund qualify for an immediate tax deduction, while donors have complete say over how those tax-advantaged dollars are allocated. In other words, you're allowed to transfer funds from your own personal account at Fidelity or Vanguard to a public charity, and then at some point in the future you get to "advise" that public charity as to where those dollars should go. It's a simple process. You just contact the fund-holder, answer some questions, and make a contribution; it can be a one-time contribution, or you can choose to contribute on a regular basis. And you can make disbursements from the fund at any time, or not at all.

PND: What part of that equation does your campaign address?

VDL: We're not saying donor-advised funds are good or bad; we're saying the current system is broken, in that it allows an individual donor to take an immed­iate tax deduction but does not insist on a corresponding responsibility to put those dollars to work for public benefit in a timely fashion, which is something we'd like to see. We think donors should be encouraged to give, and what we're trying to do is to say to individuals who have donor-advised funds, "Look, you've made your contribution to this public charity, you've gotten your tax deduction, don't let that money sit there, let's put it to good use." We think the money sitting in donor-advised funds is an untapped resource that could and should be used to deal with some of the pressing problems of the day. And we can help donors who share our social justice concerns do that.

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[Review] 'The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations'

June 18, 2015

In his poem "i thank You God for most this amazing," e.e. cummings wrote that "now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened." It is precisely this sense of clarity that comes to mind when reading The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by David Grant, former president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Cover_the_social_nonprofit_handbookAs Grant notes, the world of the twenty-first century increasingly is defined by metrics and data. The social sector is no exception, and calls for better and more timely measurement of its activities have become a feature of the landscape. Gone are the days when funders were content to let intuition and anecdotal evidence guide their funding choices. Donors today — both institutional and individual — are keen to move the needle on large, seemingly intractable societal and environmental challenges, and in attempting to do so they have become ever-more interested in data that can demonstrate the impact of the programs and organizations in which they have invested. As a long-time admirer and teacher of poetry and literature, Grant relishes the complexity of this brave new world and applies his nuanced perspective toward a keen assessment of what it means for the field. "Social profit," he writes, "is about desired social benefits, and so it has to be defined locally depending on what a community of people values and what they need. It will never have a fixed or standard measure, and efforts to create one will get bogged down in endless quibbles and conflict about measurement itself."

According to Grant, efforts to measure social impact are fraught with challenges with which the for-profit world does not have to contend. Trying to balance multiple bottom lines, for example, is necessarily more complex than having to worry about a single one, he notes, especially given the fact there is no single agreed-upon unit of "social profit." Rather than focus on quantitative measures, therefore, Grant emphasizes qualitative "formative assessment." While not ignoring quantitative performance measures, he favors "soft measurements" and argues that a true assessment of social profit demands "a combination of pertinent metrics and a qualitative description...that can only be created by the people who are providing and receiving it."

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