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1362 posts categorized "Philanthropy"

Get Out There!

September 08, 2016

Go_signI hope you had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it's time to hunker down in the office and get things done, right?


In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see community problems being solved. There's no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging connections. And there are few people more suited to forging connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.

Building connections isn't something you do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them firsthand with those who are most affected by them. You need to meet people on their own turf and look them in the eye before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear on a problem. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that almost never take place within your own foundation's walls.

Of course, not every foundation operates this way. It's not that foundation people are shy or too self-important to get out there – it's that they get caught up in the myth of the importance of being in the office.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 3-5, 2016)

September 05, 2016

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

Corporate Social Responsibility

The landscape of corporate philanthropy is changing — for the better. Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, looks at one Wall Street firm determined to change the existing stock-buyback paradigm.

Disaster Relief

In aftermath of the recent flooding in Louisiana, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate's Rebekah Allen and Elizabeth Crisp look at how crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are disrupting the traditional disaster relief funding model.


In the New York Times, Christopher Edmin, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and the author of For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, challenges the idea that the answer to closing the achievement gap for boys and young men of color is to hire and retain more black male teachers.


Wondering how to get the public solidly behind your cause? Of course you are. Regular PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann shares some good tips here.

Higher Education

As the call for institutions of higher education to diversify their curricula grows louder, maybe it's time, writes the University of Texas' Steven Mintz on the Teagle Foundation site, for colleges and university "to embrace the Great Books spirit and delve into the most problematic aspects of our contemporary reality through works that speak to our time and perhaps all time."


The Organizational Effectiveness program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has launched an Organizational Effectiveness Knowledge Center designed to be a space where nonprofits, funders, and others can "exchange learning, resources, and reflections about improving nonprofit organizational and network effectiveness."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2016)

September 03, 2016

"By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer's best of weather and autumn's best of cheer...." ~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Ah, summer, we hardly knew you. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend and getting to spend some of it with family and friends. While you're waiting for beverages to chill and the grill to get hot, check out some of the posts PhilanTopic readers gave a big thumb's up to in August.

What did you read/watch/listen to in August that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

5 Questions for...Kim Laughton, President, Schwab Charitable

August 25, 2016

The first donor-advised fund was established by the New York Community Trust in 1931, but it would be almost forty years, and the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1969, before donor-advised funds received formal regulatory recognition from Congress. A decade and a half later, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — which imposed, in some administrative areas, "more stringent reporting obligations and payment deadlines on private foundations" — established DAFs as an attractive giving vehicle for a certain kind of donor. Then, in 1991, Fidelity Investments established the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund as an independent public charity, and the DAF landscape was changed forever.

Over the course of the 1990s and 2000s, the debate over donor-advised funds grew more heated, with critics of commercially sponsored DAFs arguing that because "charitable donations can be held in a DAF for decades or even centuries," they should be more tightly regulated, while others defended them as "an efficient, 21st-century alternative to the private foundations that dominated philanthropy in the 20th century...easy to set up and inexpensive to manage."

Recently, PND spoke with Kim Laughton, president of Schwab Charitable, a nonprofit donor-advised fund provider established with the support of Charles Schwab & Co., about her fund's results for the fiscal year just ended and what she makes of the persistent criticism of commercially sponsored donor-advised fund providers. Prior to joining Schwab Charitable, Laughton held a variety of leadership, strategy, and general management positions at Charles Schwab & Co., served as a vice president for Citibank-Asia/Pacific, and worked as a Consultant for Bain & Company. 

Headshot_Kim LaughtonPhilanthropy News Digest: In a report released at the end of July, Schwab Charitable announced that for the fiscal year ending June 30, it distributed more than $1.2 billion in grants to charities from its donor-advised funds under management. That's a 12 percent increase over the amount it distributed in the prior fiscal year, and the second consecutive year in which it has distributed more than a billion dollars in grants to nonprofits and charities. Given the volatility in the stock market over the last year and a half, were you surprised by the results?

Kim Laughton: I wasn't. The markets were volatile over that period, yes, but from beginning to end, they were fairly flat. In between, there were two swings of 15 percent or more, in August last year and then again in January this year. Whenever that happens, there is going to be uncertainty, and you do find that people tend to become more cautious in terms of their charitable giving. But the wonderful thing about donor-advised funds is that people have already set aside an amount of money for future giving, and we find that giving from our funds stays pretty robust, regardless of the economic climate.  

Factoring in the Great Recession and its aftermath in the 2008 to 2010 period, we saw increases in granting as well. Not much as the 12 percent we saw in fiscal year '16, but in the worst of that period, between fiscal year '09 and '10, our granting actually increased about 2 percent. And, again, that underscores how donor-advised funds tend to stabilize giving in difficult times while being a great way for clients to be thoughtful and proactive in their giving in good times.

PND: What was the average payout for the donor-advised funds under your management in fiscal year 2016, and how does that compare to the previous year?

KL: The average payout for our funds for the last two fiscal years has been fairly steady at around 20 percent. It was slightly higher this last year because our assets actually grew a bit less than our granting. Of course, we're extraordinarily proud of those rates. As you know, private foundations operate with a mandated 5 percent payout, so we've been averaging four times the mandated minimum that foundations pay out. The other statistic that's important to think about is that our clients, over a fifteen-year period, grant out 90 percent of what they put in to their funds, and over a five- to ten-year year period they grant out something like 76 percent. In other words, a lot of our clients are contributing to their funds on a regular basis, and they're granting dollars from those funds at a very active rate.

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Black Philanthropy Month: An Opportunity to Give More Than Money

August 22, 2016

We focus on the money too much.

At least, that's true when we're talking about philanthropy and what it means for us and for our communities. In examining the needs of African-American organizations and communities, however, we must dig deeper when defining both the resources needed and those we can offer. We agree that these communities need hard dollars to create true equity on a host of indicators. But they also need our time and our talent.


August is Black Philanthropy Month, and we want to use the occasion to ask each of us to consider what we have to give. The leaders of Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy (CAAIP) are dedicated to spreading that message, not only among African Americans but among all those who understand that investing in our communities is critical to creating a vibrant region that works for all of us. Chicago isn't healthy unless all its children receive a high-quality education and are prepared to enter the workforce. It can't succeed unless every family has safe and affordable housing. And it cannot thrive with the levels of violence and incarceration that disproportionately affect African-American communities. We all bear the cost of the lost opportunities, and lost lives, that are the result of these inequitable conditions.

This is why CAAIP is dedicated to creating a culture of investment that supports the critical, innovative work aimed at transforming these communities. As part of that effort, CAAIP is partnering with Forefront, formerly known as the Donors Forum, to convene grantmakers and nonprofit leaders to participate in racial equity conversations, trainings, and to share resources for greater effectiveness.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 20-21, 2016)

August 21, 2016

Rain-south-la-9a-jpgOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

On the Carnegie Corporation website, the corporation's Geri Mannion and Jay Beckner of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation chat with Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow Gail Ablow about how foundations can support voting rights litigation.

Community Improvement/Development

The Rockefeller Foundation and Unreasonable Institute, which works to identify entrepreneurs with the potential to address social injustice at scale, have announced the launch of the Future Cities Accelerator, a $1 million urban innovation competition aimed at spurring next-generation leaders to develop solutions to complex urban problems. Though the competition, ten winners will receive $100,000 each and will participate in a nine-month intensive program giving them access to business leaders, investors, and technical support. Details here.

The Knight Foundation is bringing back its Knight Cities Challenge for a third iteration and will offer $5 million in grant funding for the best ideas in three areas that are crucial to building more successful cities – attracting and retaining talent, increasing economic opportunity, and promoting civic engagement. The competition, which is limited to the twenty-six Knight communities, opens Monday, October 10, at and will close on Thursday, November 3, with winners to be announced next spring.

As part of Generocity's "Leaders of Color" series, Tony Abraham profiles David Gould, a program office at the William Penn Foundation, who has a plan for leveling the playing field for people of color in Philadelphia. You can check out the rest of the series here.

What can we learn about creative placemaking from Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities)? As the Saint Luke's Foundation's Nelson Beckford reminds us, pretty much everything.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Think the concept of sustainability is a little too fuzzy to serve as a pillar of one's corporate strategy. Think again, argues the Environmental Defense Fund's Tom Murray.

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Giving Days Can Be a Community Win When Foundations Focus on the Big Picture

August 18, 2016

Giving_days_imageAt a time when charitable organizations are vigorously competing to gain the attention — and ultimately the support — of individual donors, giving days offer a powerful tool to drive community philanthropy. In fact, the amount raised through these days is impressive — including more than $116.3 million alone for the eighteen communities studied by Knight Foundation since 2012. But these online fundraising campaigns are about much more than the dollars, a new Knight report, the culmination of a three-year initiative, found: Over time, when organizers purposefully align the campaigns with their missions, giving days have helped to strengthen community foundations that organize them.

That's not to say that giving days are without risks or that the significant investment of community foundation resources and staff time is always worth it. Certainly, community foundations have been doing a lot of thinking about how to and even whether to continue theirs. Some of this contemplation follows the tech failure during this spring's nationwide Give Local America, when the donation-processing technology provided by Kimbia broke down. Online donations slowed to a halt for two-thirds of the 24-hour campaign, leaving donors, nonprofits, and community foundations in fifty-four communities across the country in crisis-mode and scrambling for a Plan B. It was not the first giving day tech failure, but it was the largest. Consultant Beth Kanter took a deeper look at what happened for KnightBlog, and considered the implications of the debacle for the future of giving days. In an upcoming blog series, we'll hear directly from community foundations about why they are and aren't continuing with these campaigns.

But despite what happened on Give Local America, we hope that community foundations also pay attention to the progress made through their investments. Having spent considerable time tracking giving day successes and challenges across the country over the past three years, we have seen the long-term value they can provide to both community foundation organizers and the communities they serve. Here are four examples from our new report, Beyond the Dollars: The Long-Term Value of Giving Days for Community Foundations, of what that change looked like.

Giving days, the report found:

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Generation Indigenous: Why Native American Youth Can't Wait

August 16, 2016

Gen_i-primary_logoOver the past decade, philanthropy has become increasingly responsive to the needs of young boys and men of color. The philanthropic community has mobilized to coordinate and partner on efforts like the Obama administration's My Brother's Keeper initiative. More recently, the field has turned its attention to addressing the needs of girls and young women of color. While I applaud these efforts, I'm reminded daily of the pressing and unmet needs of Native communities. And that invariably causes me to think about how much more needs to be done to ensure that all youth — regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender — have equal access to quality education and health care and the opportunity to grow up in safe and thriving communities.

Like other youth of color, Native American and Alaska Natives in cities and communities across the United States face challenges. Natives Americans have endured a history of racism and colonialism that has resulted in multi-generational trauma. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Native youth between the ages of 15 and 24 — and that rate is two and a half times the national average. Native youth are five times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than whites, where they receive disproportionately harsher sentences, and are more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group. Moreover, Native Americans are often categorized in data and reports as "statistically insignificant" or "other," erasing their very existence as a disadvantaged minority. As a result, too many programs, policies, and systems — not to mention philanthropy — ignore or overlook them.

The philanthropic community is well aware of these challenges, and yet foundation funding for Native issues and communities remains disproportionately low, consistently accounting for less than 0.5 percent of annual foundation grant dollars, even though Native Americans are 1.7 percent (5.4 million) of the U.S. population. Institutional philanthropy may blanch at the size of the problem or feel paralyzed by its lack of understanding of Native peoples and cultures, but philanthropy can make a difference. While the challenges are real, the resilience and hope in Native communities has resulted in innovative, high-impact solutions to many of these problems. And the most promising solutions have been driven by and for Native youth.

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4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

August 15, 2016

Eco-InnovationToo often foundations ask their grantees for "innovative ideas" but fail to deliver the same thing themselves — or even bother to define what "innovation" means. The assumption is that it "just happens." That lack of definition has come to imply that innovation must involve a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.

As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula: How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, I now realize the opposite is true. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas. Here's what I learned from their book, and how I've applied it when working with my clients.

Supportive environments for innovation are created when:

  • Leadership – especially the CEO – serves as champions for the process.
  • Leadership believes that everyone can be innovative.
  • Leadership is willing to regularly identify, test, pilot, and implement potentially innovative ideas.
  • Leadership prudently monitors risk (not every innovative idea is a good one!).

Once these conditions are in place, there are four steps a foundation can take to generate innovations on an ongoing basis. They are:

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 13-14, 2016)

August 14, 2016

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

African Americans

In a review of Mychal Denzel Smith’s new memoir, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watchingfor the New Republic, Jesse McCarthy reflects on "what has changed in our politics over the course of the Bush and Obama years, and in particular on the reemergence of an activist consciousness in black politics (and youth politics more broadly)."

In Fortune, a seemingly nonplussed Ellen McGirt reports on the Ford Foundation's investment in the Black-Led Movement Fund (BLMF), "a pooled donor fund designed to support the work of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)...." And be sure to check out this profile of the Ford Foundation-led #ReasonsForHope campaign by Fast Company's Ben Paynter.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Is anyone in corporate America measuring the impact of their CSR programs? In Forbes, Ryan Scott shares a few considerations for companies that are approaching impact measurement for the first time.


Intrigued (and a little alarmed) by the decision of the Australian department that manages that country's census to collect and store real names with its census data, Philanthropy 2173's Lucy Bernholz has some good questions for all of us.


Committed reformer or Department of Education apparatchik? Newsweek senior writer Alexander Nazaryan, himself a former New York City school teacher, tries to make sense of the puzzle wrapped in an enigma that is New York City public school chief Carmen Fariña.

In The Atlantic, Emily Deruy reports on the nascent efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement to reshape K-12 education policy at the local, state, and federal levels.

At its recent annual convention, the NAACP approved a resolution that included language calling for a moratorium on the expansion of privately managed charter schools. The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss takes a closer look at the issue on her Answer Sheet blog.

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Vikki Spruill, President/CEO, Council on Foundations: Philanthropy and the SDGs

August 11, 2016

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015. The agenda includes more than a dozen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, designed to stimulate action in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet. More ambitious than the Millennium Development Goals, on which they build, the SDGs include a hundred and sixty-nine targets to be achieved over the next fifteen years, from eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere, to ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, to halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains.

Led by large, globally oriented foundations such as Ford and Hilton and key infrastructure groups like Foundation Center and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, philanthropy has rallied around the SDG agenda. In July, the Council on Foundations, another key infrastructure group, released a report that details how philanthropy can help achieve the SDGs in the United States. Based on lessons the council has learned from its members and other national and local partners over the last year, the report shares examples of how funders are using the SDG framework to structure their work domestically and offers suggestions for how others might use the goals to advance their mission.

Recently, PND spoke with Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the council, about the report, the council’s efforts to promote the SDG framework to its members, and why she believes the SDGs are good for philanthropy and the world.

Philanthropy News Digest: The council has released a report aimed at raising awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals among foundations and philanthropists in the United States. For readers who may not have heard of them, what are the SDGs, and why, as you put it in the foreword to the report, do they have the potential to be “revolutionary” for people around the world?

Headshot_vikki_spruillVikki Spruill: The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, represent a historic global consensus about the shared responsibility that all nations have in advancing a global development agenda. They tackle seventeen areas of develop­ment and set aspirational targets for the global development community to achieve over the next fifteen years so that "no one is left behind." The seventeen goals, which cover everything from eradicating hunger and poverty, to advancing environmental sustainability, to reducing inequality, to improving education and health, were agreed on by a hundred and ninety-three countries in September 2015, including the United States, which, with President Obama's encouragement, agreed to pursue the goals both here at home and through our development activities around the globe.

As you know, the SDGs emerged from a previous United Nations initiative, the Millennial Development Goals, or MDGs, which were more narrowly focused on human development, whereas the SDGs cover all dimensions of development, including the economic, social, and environmental. And they're not just intended for developing nations, as the MDGs were, they're meant to be guidelines for all nations, including the United States.

I think the SDGs have enor­mous potential. We all recog­nize that government can't solve the world’s problems by itself — the MDGs showed us that. To change the world, to fully realize philanthropy's goals, we have to work across sectors, and the SDGs contribute to that by more specifically calling out the philan­thropic and private sectors. That's very exciting.

PND: What kind of role did the private sector, and foundations specifically, have in developing the SDG framework?

VS: Founda­tions that are part of the global development community played a critical role in developing the goals and in stressing the importance of philanthropy to advancing the SDGs. There's a group called the SDG Philanthropy Platform that's led by the United Nations Development Program, your own organization, the Foundation Center, and Rocke­feller Philanthropy Advisors, and it has made enormous progress in raising awareness of the SDGs, increasing the resources available to support them, and helping to forge new partnerships.

Likewise, the Council on Foundations is working to raise awareness of the SDGs. In fact, our report grew out of meetings we had in three cities, and we're planning to hold several more over the next few months. It's important to note that the meeting that took place in Addis Ababa in 2015, the Financing for Development summit, specifically stated that the private sector, including philanthropy, is needed to achieve the SDGs. So, it's really a historic moment for philanthropy, which hasn't been recognized as a partner in the same way by the United Nations before and now is being engaged in UN development activ­ities in new ways. At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, for example, three hundred and fifty different companies were represented, and because of the SDGs there is now a real opportunity for philanthropy to join in and shape these conversations going forward.

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Get Open: Leaders Reflect on Glasspockets' Impact

August 09, 2016

The Foundation Center's Glasspockets website is dedicated to the proposition that sharing philanthropic knowledge, processes, strategy, and best practices is a win-win for everyone – from grantmakers to grantees and the communities they serve.

But don't take our word for it....

In a new video, Glasspockets: Making the Case for Transparency, philanthropy leaders – including representatives from the Barr Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and others – reflect on the positive impact that Glasspockets, and working more openly, has had on their work.

What are you waiting for? Take our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency self-assessment and join the "Glass Pockets" movement today!

– Melissa Moy

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2016)

August 06, 2016

Sort of like that great little farm stand that pulls you in every time you drive by, our roundup of the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July offers lots of delicious food for thought. So pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade and dig in!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

Funding the Frontlines: The Value of Supporting Grassroots Organizing

August 02, 2016

Frontlines_disk spaceOver the last decade or so, human rights organizations, democracy activists, journalists, and civil society groups around the world have faced increasing constraints on their work. Legal and administrative barriers imposed by governments have made it more difficult to operate in civic space. Activists have been subjected to intimidation when they gather in public, voice their views, or set up new organizations. In some countries, foreign and local funding for NGOs has been scrutinized, restricted, and even banned. These factors have combined to negatively affect the human rights agenda and have resulted in a phenomenon known as "shrinking civic space" around the globe.

Against that backdrop, human rights funders are doing their best to keep open and, where possible, expand civic space. The International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center's new report Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking showcases that work in numbers: In 2013, 803 funders worldwide allocated $2.3 billion in support of human rights. The report identifies these funders, the regions and the issues they support, and the populations they target. This year's research also examines the strategies supported by human rights funding. Ranging from policy advocacy to grassroots organizing, the report defines eleven approaches and finds that:

  • Activities related to advocacy — to ensure that states and non-state actors recognize, conform to, and implement international human rights standards — receive the largest share of funding dollars (27 percent).
  • Capacity-building and technical assistance for civil society organizations receives the second largest share of human rights funding (15 percent).
  • Research and documentation — to expose human rights violations and their perpetrators — is the third largest category of funding (13 percent).

Frontline_trickle-downWhat I find most interesting in this research is the amount of funding allocated to grassroots organizing — a mere 2 percent. This statistic aligns with the findings of the Civicus study The State of Civil Society, 2015, which notes that NGOs receive only 1 percent of official development assistance. For local civil society organizations, the picture is even bleaker: their share is just 0.2 percent. So the funding, if available, primarily supports large, high-profile NGOs, whereas those organizing at the community level do not have nearly enough access to resources. In other words, we are not close to "funding the frontline."

Why are funders failing at the local level? Do they assume that if the big groups are supported, change will eventually trickle down to those most in need? One possibility is that human rights funders may not fully appreciate the potential of funding grassroots organizing.

Before I get to that, let's make sure we're on the same page when we talk about the "grassroots." Grassroots organizations consist of rights-holders — people who are directly affected by a problem or whose rights have been infringed or violated. These groups use collective action to address obstacles to the full realization of their constituents' rights, not only locally but also at the national and international levels. They are associated with bottom-up decision making and are seen as being more spontaneous than groups plugged into more traditional power structures. They seek to challenge and change the status quo.

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[Review] Mission Control

August 01, 2016

In Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More, and Change the World, Liana Downey argues that many well-intentioned nonprofit organizations lack focus and, motivated by a need to be everything to everyone, end up being less effective than they could or should be. Most of us have encountered this kind of "mission creep" in one form or another. It could be a local food pantry that, after noticing that many people who are coming for food have other needs, "starts offering referrals to homeless shelters and...providing job training" without taking the time to assess whether it is "the best organization to be meeting these needs." While that organization may have "gone wide in its services, and...helped people along the way," no one is sure whether the "increase in the breadth of services enabled it to better meet the initial need." In other words, are there still people in its community going hungry?

MissionControl-3D_FINALThose are difficult and important questions, and in Mission Control Downey has created a "step-by-step guide" for nonprofits that want to avoid mission creep, find their focus, and change the world.

Downey begins her book with a chapter on how to "Prepare for Success" that looks at whether now is the right time for your nonprofit to find its focus and develop an action plan to increase its impact, who should be involved in the process , how much time your organization should spend on the process, and whether you need external help (in the form of a facilitator, advisor, or consultant).

Having determined that it is indeed a good time for your organization to find its focus, the next step is to "get the facts." And that means asking a series of questions about your clients (who are they, what do they want, etc.), your organizational structure (how many employees/volunteers, your fixed and variable costs, funding sources and reserves), and how the broader environment in which your organization operates affects its work (who are your competitors, who are your funders, who are the key players in the policy arena, etc.).

With the answers to the above in hand, it's on to the crux of Downey's process: establishing a clear, achievable goal "that will help you make decisions, motivate your team, and increase your impact." A goal is not the same thing as a mission, nor is it a vision or value statement. While both those things are important, she writes, "they are not the real differentiator between organizations that achieve great things and those that don't." That's the function of an ambitious and actionable goal.

As Downey walks readers through a series of steps designed to help their organizations craft such a goal, she makes it clear that every organization has the capacity to create meaningful change — so long as its efforts are grounded in facts. Or, as she puts it: "Good intentions, hard work, and intelligence are not enough to change the world. To succeed you must focus your efforts on the interventions that actually work."

In the chapter "Identifying Your Strengths," for example, she invites readers to reflect on what their organizations already do well and encourages them to take stock of its capabilities and assets. And in one of the "Cynic's Corner" sidebars sprinkled throughout the book, she shares an anecdote about a nonprofit whose culture was so rigid and hierarchical, it didn't even ask its volunteers about their skills and experiences — capabilities that could have advanced the organization's mission in very real ways. 

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