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1075 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

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."

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

FC_KFUSFDNs_page2

 

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.

Philanthropy as If Democracy Really Mattered

June 05, 2014

Philanthropy could have far greater impact if government worked better. That's the conclusion of a recent survey of more than two hundred foundation leaders by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. According to the report based on the survey, "Foundation CEOs believe the greatest barriers to their foundations' ability to make more progress are issues external to foundations — particularly the current government policy environment and economic climate."

The more than 86,000 independent foundations in the United States make some $54 billion in grants every year in a wide range of areas, including education, health, environment, and the arts. Though rightfully proud of their accomplishments, the leaders of those foundations are far from satisfied. With a mandate to serve the public good, they want their foundations to have greater impact, and that requires the kinds of policies and government action needed to scale the many worthy programs piloted with philanthropic dollars.

Fortunately, foundation leaders are doing something about their frustration. Since 2011, more than one thousand American foundations have granted nearly $1.4 billion to organizations working to help American democracy live up to its promise. These data are displayed in Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a new interactive data platform developed by Foundation Center with support from eight of America's leading funders: the Rita Allen Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Omidyar Network's Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The platform defines what "democracy funding" means for philanthropy, establishes a baseline for such funding, and allows users to quickly grasp, in terms of both major trends and detail, who is funding what and where, across the nation.

Screenshot_democracy_tool

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Google Loves Taxonomy; Is It Good Enough for Philanthropy?

June 02, 2014

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

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

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

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Aligning Investments in Water Quality

June 01, 2014

Headshot_nathan_boonOne of the most exciting aspects of philanthropy is the prospect of effecting systematic change, yet many of us in the sector often struggle with the scale of the systems we're trying to influence. Certainly this is true in environmental philanthropy, where a single and coherent environmental system like a watershed (e.g., river basin) can encompass an enormous geography and a host of complex issues. Where my colleagues and I sit in the Delaware River watershed, for example, we're dealing with 216 major tributaries and an area of more than 13,500 square miles that includes four states, 838 municipalities, and a total population of nearly 8 million people. For watersheds and other large ecosystems, even the most generous grantmaking budget will be dwarfed by the enormity of what's needed, raising important questions for philanthropic investors. How can we be more effective in deploying scarce resources? How do we assess whether we're making a difference? Where do we choose to invest, and how do we support work in a way that meaningfully sets the stage for replication and greater impact?

At the William Penn Foundation, we're responding to these tough questions by implementing a new approach to a decades-long legacy of environmental grantmaking. With the support of our board and strong partners in the research and nonprofit communities, we are focusing our geographic footprint by prioritizing select ecosystems, aligning the work of capable nonprofit organizations within those ecosystems, targeting specific environmental stressors, and continually measuring progress. All to restore and protect the quality and availability of our water resources — resources with a history of unchecked pollution and abuse.

We have come a long way since the mid-1880s, when fouled water, factory waste, and mining by-products were drained into our waters at alarming rates. In the first half of the twentieth century, many bodies of water — including the Delaware Estuary, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound — were renowned for their dead zones, stretches of polluted water where virtually nothing could survive. The extent of the damage eventually led to multi-sector partnerships to address the problem, including the first interstate watershed commission in 1936, as well as a succession of state and federal legislation to reduce point-source pollution, culminating in the Clean Water Act of 1972 and amendments to the act in 1977 and 1987. Today, as a result, we have far fewer dead zones in our lakes, rivers and estuaries, and polluters are held to a much higher standard when it comes to releasing waste into local waterways.

But it is not enough.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, new contaminants have emerged to threaten environmental and public health, even as major sources of industrial pollution have been outsourced to foreign shores. With the relative decline in American manufacturing and an ever-increasing U.S. population, we are seeing new threats from the industrialization of agriculture, suburban sprawl, and our appetite for fossil fuels. Regulators are challenged to address sources of pollution that are widely distributed across the landscape and cannot be traced back to a single end-of-pipe discharge point.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2014)

It was a rough month for Typepad, the blogging service/platform used by tens of thousand of blogs, including PhilanTopic. On two separate occasions during the month, the platform was subjected to significant DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks that knocked it completely offline. In fact, we were down for the better part of six days. Despite the inconvenience, it was a busy month here, as some of our favorite contributors -- Allison Shirk, Derrick Feldmann, and Foundation Center president Brad Smith -- checked in with popular posts. Here's another 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....

5 Questions for…John Gomperts, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance

May 30, 2014

According to Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic 2014 (112 pages, PDF), a report published in April by America's Promise Alliance and its partners, the four-year high school graduation rate in the United States reached 80 percent for the first time ever in 2012. But while the overall rate is on track to reach the 90 percent goal set by the alliance's Building a GradNation Campaign, the report notes the troubling persistence of achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color. In an effort to help address those gaps, America's Promise just released Don't Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young Americans Who Leave High School Before Graduation (72 pages, PDF), which looks at the multiple factors that result in students in high-poverty communities leaving high school before they graduate.

PND spoke with John Gomperts, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, about the positive trendlines in graduation rates, the implications of the reports' findings, and what philanthropy can do to address the achievement gaps that remain. Before joining America’s Promise in 2012, Gomperts headed AmeriCorps, Civic Ventures, and Experience Corps.

Headshot_john_gompertsPhilanthropy News Digest: Building a Grad Nation notes that one of the factors in the steady rise in the U.S. high school graduation rate over the last decade is the significant improvement in African-American and Latino graduation rates. To what do you attribute those gains?

John Gomperts: We as a nation have seen an almost 10 percentage-point increase in high school graduation rates over about a decade, which is notable, because that means that an additional four hundred thousand young people are graduating every year than were graduating a decade ago. That's four hundred thousand young people who are on track to becoming successful adults, which is a huge thing for those young people, their families, their communities, and the nation. And, yes, we have seen impressive gains among African-American and Latino students. Those two groups had a long distance to travel, and that was one of the huge red flags for all of us who are concerned about young people and opportunity. But while graduation rates for African Americans and Latinos have improved over the last decade, they still graduate at  lower rates and there is more work to do.

To what do I attribute these gains? A couple of things. The first is a much greater awareness of the challenge. For a long time, people just assumed that everybody graduated from high school, or that it didn't matter. One of the big things that America's Promise and its partners set out to do was to help people understand that lots of kids are not graduating from high school, as well as the consequences of not graduating for those kids, their families, their communities, and the country.

Second, greater awareness of the problem led to much greater accountability at the school level, community level, family level, and national level, so that all of a sudden, with significant help from the federal government and from folks on the outside, people are now tracking graduation rates and holding institutions and individuals accountable for the outcomes.

Third, there is no question that targeted school reform has helped drive improvements in graduation rates. Those efforts come in a variety of forms: better teachers, better curriculum, longer school days, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and so on. In addition, a whole host of reforms have been targeted to the lowest-performing schools, and those have made a difference.

Fourth, we've learned a lot more about, and invested more heavily in, evidence-based interventions in schools and in communities. We've gotten smarter about what the real barriers are that prevent kids from staying and succeeding in school. Some of those things have to do with school, some of those things have to do with life, and I think many nonprofits have done a great job of working with local school districts and others to provide the kind of support that young people who are growing up in challenging circumstances need in order to flourish and thrive.

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Research and Crowdsourcing Shine a Light on Grantmaking Institutions

May 29, 2014

Headshot_sherece_west_scantleburyIn 2013, more than 80,000 foundations collectively awarded nearly $50 billion in grants, benefiting people and causes in nearly every corner of our nation and the world. Grantmaking institutions have an enormous amount of influence in sectors such as health and education, in fields such as community change and economic development, and in the spheres of public policy and advocacy, and more.

Recently, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched Philamplify, which couples evidence-based assessments by experts with an interactive website featuring commentary from people with first-hand experience in philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities. Together, they create a comprehensive picture of what's working well and what could be working better. The impetus to build this new interactive website stems from the belief that transparency, mutual accountability, and knowledge-sharing can transform communities and maximize the impact of the country's grantmakers by creating a safe space for all of us to provide honest, constructive feedback.

As the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation – an institution that values excellence and accountability in its grantmaking – I welcome the feedback Philamplify promises. Empowering our communities to thrive and enabling the dreams and possibilities of those in need through the power of philanthropy should always be a receptive, responsive, and, above all, effective process.

A just, inclusive society is one that welcomes all voices, and philanthropies should be the best ambassadors of these principles. Being heard has never been easier in the Internet age, and we are more connected than at any other time in human history. Online communication facilitates collective knowledge and experience on the practical application of charitable giving that touches so many lives in America and across the globe.

We rate our restaurants, our dry cleaners, and our shopping malls. Philamplify provides nuanced feedback in the way we steward billions of foundation dollars to serve the individuals and families that need it most and to address the most pressing problems of our times. At the same time, we suspect that grant recipients, grant seekers, and others shy away from offering their ideas for what could be done differently, lest their feedback be interpreted as criticism and not received in the constructive way it was intended.

We need to push back on this isolation bubble in philanthropy. I work in the charitable sector not because I believe I know better than the communities with which I work, but because I want to engage in a dynamic conversation with them in the hope of finding innovative, potent ways to solve pressing issues together. I subscribe to the belief that no matter what field you work in, the passion that you find in your mission is only enhanced by the feedback from those whose lives you impact – which is why the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation volunteered to participate in NCRP's foundation assessment process. We found that this impartial, third-party evaluation of our strategies to bring economic, social, and racial justice to the lives of Arkansans was not only helpful, but also necessary to bolster accountable, open, and effective grantmaking activity.

With Philamplify, I believe we've taken an important step in transforming the philanthropic world into a transparent, inclusive space that celebrates the diversity of opinions from those who are our partners in improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. When philanthropy proactively taps into the rich ideas that come from openness and mutual accountability, the possibilities are boundless. I believe that day has come.

Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury is president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Arkansans in education, economic development, and economic, racial and social justice. She also serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a national watchdog, research, and advocacy organization. This post originally appeared on the NCRP blog and is reposted here with permission.

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