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156 posts categorized "Science/Technology"

Weekend Link Roundup (June 25-26, 2016)

June 26, 2016

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

Civil Society

The Huffington Post's Eleanor Goldberg shares this tidbit: During the last presidential election cycle in 2012, more Americans gave to charity (59.7 percent)  than voted (53.6 percent). What's more, the U.S. lags most of its OECD peers when it comes to voter turnout. According to Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, that's because giving is seen as "more direct, more tangible,” whereas "there are lots of gaps between what any one politician promises and what he or she can deliver." 

Digital Divide

A study commissioned by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to mark World Wi-Fi Day (June 20) finds that nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the people in North America, which boasts the world's highest average monthly income, do not have a broadband connection.

Environment

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther talks with Linda Greer, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, about how NGOs can pressure companies to change, why environmental nonprofits should not take money from corporations, and how NRDC is working Ma Jun, China’s best-known environmental leader, to bring about change on the environmental front in that country.

Immigration

"The Brexit vote," writes Dara Lind in Vox, "has proven that anti-immigrant anxiety is an incredibly powerful force: powerful enough to, in certain circumstances, ensure an electoral victory. But the thing about running on people's anxieties is that once you get into office, you have...to alleviate them." Otherwise, you're just another failed politician "who couldn’t keep [his/her] promises."

Inequality

"For every dollar owned by the average white family in the United States," write Rebecca Adamson, Rose Brewer, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Meizhu Lui, and Bárbara Robles, "the average family of color has less than [a] dime." And that wealth gap has everything to do with the fact that for centuries, people of color in America ?were barred by law, by discrimination, and by violence from participating in government wealth-building programs that benefited white Americans."

International Affairs/Development 

According to a new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,  65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015, compared to 59.5 million twelve months earlier and four times more than a decade ago. The report also found that three countries -- Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million) -- produced half the world's refugees in 2015, while Colombia (6.9 million), Syria (6.6 million), and Iraq (4.4 million) had the largest numbers of internally displaced people. Elsewhere, an analysis by the Pew Research Center found that of the more than 40,000 refugees who have been admitted to the United States so far in 2016, the largest numbers have come from Burma (Myanmar), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

Nonprofits

In the Nonprofit Quarterly, Jim Schaffer makes a strong case for sticking with the word nonprofit to describe the work of, well, nonprofits.

How is nonprofit overhead still a thing? asks Nell Edgington on her Social Velocity blog.

Inexpensive is nice, free is better, and Wild Apricot's 199 free or cheap online tools for nonprofits is the cat's pajamas.

Philanthropy

"Perpetuity," as John D. Rockefeller once observed, "is a very long time," which is why, writes Fred Smith on the CEP blog, a growing number of high-net-worth families are deciding to "sunset" their foundations and distribute the remaining assets to a new generation of community-based leaders and organizations.

CF Insights, a service of Foundation Center (PND's parent organization), has released a new ranking of the largest hundred community foundations in the United States by asset size. (Registration required.)

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Philamplify initiative has released another in its series of foundation assessments. This time the organization in the spotlight is the Oregon Community Foundation, the eighth-largest (by assets) community foundation in the country.

And in what is sure to be a much-commented article published in the July 14 issue of The New York Review of Books, retired business owner and New York City philanthropist Lewis B. Cullman and Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff argue that the increasing popularity of commercial donor-advised funds, which "give donors all of the tax benefits of charitable giving while imposing no obligation that the money be put to active charitable use," is a matter of "grave concern" and threatens "to undermine the American system for funding charity."

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

A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

PND: The MacArthur Foundation, along with the Chicago Community Trust and the Calvert Foundation, recently launched a $100 million impact investment initiative in Chicago aimed at accelerating the efforts of organizations there to address a variety of educational disparities, the lack of access to healthy food in many neighborhoods, the shortage of affordable housing, and other critical needs. While $100 million is a lot of money, it's a relatively modest sum given the scope and scale of the needs. Is impact investing the future of social service funding?

SC: I'm not sure it's the future, but it's certainly part of the future. I wouldn't want to suggest it's a way to solve all problems. Obviously, it isn't. But it is a new lever, a new platform that will gain traction and will be very helpful in accelerating and maximizing social impact across the country and the rest of the world.

I would add that sometimes these investments can be catalytic; you can't just measure them by the actual dollars put in. When we started AOL thirty-one years ago, we raised $1 million in venture capital in our initial funding round, and it took us a while to really scale the company, but eventually we did. A decade ago, the Case Foundation invested a couple of million dollars in Network for Good and platforms like MissionFish (now part of the PayPal Giving Fund), and those investments have generated more than $2 billion dollars in contributions to thousands of nonprofits. So sometimes the investments have substantially greater impact than the actual size of the original check would suggest.

As I mentioned, sometimes the key is a partnership. Network for Good and MissionFish chose not to go it alone, but instead figured out how they could work together, pool some capital, and focus on specific issues they considered important. I think that's a good model, and having foundations looking at some of these issues in a broader, more integrated context is something we'd like to see more of.

We've done some work, for example, with the Kresge Foundation, which is doing a lot of different things in Detroit. One of the things it invested in, alongside Revolution, our investment firm, was Shinola, a Detroit-based maker of handcrafted watches. It's also making significant investments in rebuilding key parts of the city's infrastructure and is allocating some of its capital for direct investments in companies that can be catalysts for change, whether that's in the area of job creation, rebuilding neighborhoods, or driving economic growth in the city and the region.

PND: What, in your view, is needed to inspire more of these types of partnerships — and attract larger sums of money into impact investing experiments?

SC: In part, I think it's about awareness. A few years ago, most people I ran into didn't know about impact investing, or certainly weren't talking about it. It's also about building coalitions, which is why partnerships are so important. Some of it is engaging on the policy side. There are impediments that are holding back investment in the impact space, including some of the ERISA rules that were limiting or constraining some institutional investors — pension funds, typically — from making impact investments. One of the catalysts for the venture capital revolution three decades ago involved changes to the rules prohibiting large institutional investors from investing in venture as an asset class. When the rules were recently changed, it unleashed a lot of capital.

The last factor is success. Momentum begets momentum. As people see more of these initiatives and companies succeed, it will encourage others to take a closer look. And as those people pursue it and begin to have some success, many of them will devote larger sums to it. Again, sometimes these things just take time.

PND: Collaboration can be a challenge for nonprofits — not that it's easy for anyone — in part because nonprofits tend to be the partner at the table with the fewest resources. Do you think the third wave does anything to change that dynamic?

SC: I think it does, in two respects. One is that technology, particularly the Internet, is an unparalleled platform for mobilizing action. Awareness first, and then action. There are plenty of examples, including the Arab Spring and the way many politicians now run their campaigns. So you've got technology leveling the playing field and giving everybody a voice, giving people the ability to aggregate many voices and create networks around ideas. That will only accelerate.

The other is this growing emphasis on partnership and policy — what I call the "Ps" of the third wave. While the focus right now may be more on the company side of things, those same kinds of principles are going to drive a lot of innovation and success in the social sector over the next ten to twenty years.

PND: Business isn't always viewed as the most trustworthy player when it comes to addressing social and environmental challenges. Some would argue that's because so many business leaders are eager to promote the idea that the sole function of business in a free-market economy is to maximize shareholder value. Is that a fair critique?

SC: The view that profit should be the only concern of business is the traditional, Milton Friedmanesque view of capitalism, and it's a view that many investors and CEOs share. But I think it's changing. The interest in and growth of things like impact investing demonstrates that. Benefit corporations didn't really exist five years ago. I don't know what the current number is, but there are probably a couple thousand registered B corps in the U.S., and their boards are charged with tracking and reporting against the company's impact or purpose, not just its profit. There's also a growing recognition among companies that younger people and the millennial generation want to work for companies that stand for more than profit and they want to invest in companies that stand for more than profit.

I understand the traditional critique of business. As I said earlier, I don't think business by itself can solve all social problems; there's a role for nonprofits, there's a role for government, there are roles for lots of folks in the social sector. But business can have a bigger role in solving some of the problems we face than it has in the past. It will require a different mindset on the part of business leaders, of course, and that's one of the reasons I'm excited about the momentum that is building around impact investing. I also think it will be helpful to a lot of communities around the country, and around the world, if there's a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship and the playing field is leveled so that anybody with an idea for a business or social enterprise has a shot at making it a reality.

PND: What could persuade corporate leaders to adopt a double- or even triple-bottom-line view of the world?

SC: Many corporate leaders already have. While the majority of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies may still be focused on profit maximization, there's a growing recognition in corporate America of the importance of purpose and there are many conversations going on about how business can transition to a different, more socially and environmentally focused kind of model. I have no doubt that ten, twenty years from now there will be more companies focused on and tracking their impact in those areas and not just focused on profit.

PND: Obviously, technology will be a key driver of future innovation. But nonprofits, especially smaller nonprofits, often don't have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it. Do you worry about a widening tech divide among nonprofits? And what, if anything, can be done to lower the barriers to participation for smaller nonprofits?

SC: That's a concern, sure, but I believe the continued development of a variety of different platforms will make it relatively easy for smaller nonprofits to take advantage of new technologies and will help level the playing field. I'm not particularly worried about that.

Earlier, I mentioned Network for Good as an example. A decade or so ago, Jean and I and others at the Case Foundation sensed that the Internet could be an important fundraising platform for nonprofits, but most nonprofits didn't have the expertise or the capacity to take advantage of the opportunity. Backing an initiative like Network for Good, which basically was a platform that all nonprofits could use and plug into at essentially no cost, was a way to provide those tools more broadly. Today, crowdfunding sites, platforms like Kickstarter and others, are doing the same kind of thing, and smartphones have been a game-changer in terms of leveling the playing field. In Africa, for example, a few years ago most farmers had no idea what the price of their particular crop should be or even what the weather a few days out was likely to be. But now, thanks to smartphones, farmers in Africa are empowered in ways that simply weren't possible before.

PND: In the book you talk about some of the things down-on-their luck cities and marginalized urban neighborhoods are doing to encourage entrepreneurial activity. How might that apply to social sector organizations working in those communities?

SC: There's remarkable momentum building around entrepreneurialism in many places. We've visited dozens of cities in our Rise of the Rest tours over the last couple of years, and I'll give you two examples based on what we saw. Seventy-five years ago Detroit was the most innovative city in the country, and then it kind of lost its entrepreneurial mojo, it lost 60 percent of its population, and then it went bankrupt. Now it's fighting its way back, which is most evident downtown. And a lot of that renewed economic activity has been driven by cross-sectoral partnerships between government, foundations, and business -- both small and large businesses. There's still a lot of work to be done, it's not going to happen overnight, but it's creating a new sense of hope in Detroit. There's a sense of possibility and opportunity there that didn't exist five years ago.

New Orleans is another example. Ten years ago, the city was reeling from Katrina and lots of people had left, many of them for good. Now, there's a great startup scene in the city and very encouraging things are happening in the school system, in part because city leaders and school officials, post-Katrina, are much more open to trying new things. You even have a couple of dozen education software companies in New Orleans, some of them started by former teachers.

So, there's no question we're seeing greater interest and more investment in Rise of the Rest cities. And it's not just Detroit and New Orleans; I could give you a couple of dozen other examples. But the important point is that these communities are more vibrant today than they were a decade ago, they are seeing more job growth, more economic growth, and they're providing better services. And when that happens, a lot of good things can happen. We can debate what the priorities are or should be, but at least now the residents of those cities are seeing investment grow for the first time in a long time, are seeing tax revenues grow, and have an opportunity to think about the best way to allocate those resources for the greater good. It's the way our system is supposed to work, and we're very excited to see it happening in many places around the country.

Matt Sinclair

Foundation Transparency: Game Over?

June 16, 2016

Data_unlockedThe tranquil world of America's foundations is about to be shaken, but if you read the Center for Effective Philanthropy's new study — Sharing What Matters, Foundation Transparency — you would never know it.

Don't get me wrong. That study, like everything CEP produces, is carefully researched, insightful, and thoroughly professional. But it misses the single biggest change in foundation transparency in decades: the release by the Internal Revenue Service of foundation 990-PF (and 990) tax returns as machine-readable open data.

Clara Miller, president of the Heron Foundation, writes eloquently in her manifesto Building a Foundation for the 21St Century: "the private foundation model was designed to be protective and separate, much like a terrarium."

Terrariums, of course, are highly "curated" environments over which their creators have complete control. To the extent that much of it consists of interviews with foundation leaders and reviews of their websites — as if transparency were a kind of optional endeavor in which foundations may choose to participate, if at all, and to what degree — the CEP study proves that point.

To be fair, CEP also interviewed the grantees of various foundations (sometimes referred to as "partners"), which helps convey the reality that foundations have stakeholders beyond their four walls. However, the terrarium metaphor is about to become far more relevant as the release of 990 tax returns as open data literally makes it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within.

What Is Open Data?

It is safe to say that most foundation leaders and a fair majority of their staff do not understand what open data really is. Open data is free, yes, but more importantly it is digital and machine-readable. This means it can be consumed in enormous volumes, at lightning speed, directly by computers.

Once consumed, open data can be tagged, sorted, indexed, and searched using statistical methods to make obvious comparisons while discovering previously undetected correlations. Anyone with a computer, some coding skills, and a hard drive or cloud storage can access open data. In today's world, a lot of people meet those requirements, and they are free to do whatever they please with your information once it is, as open data enthusiasts like to say, "in the wild."

Today, much government data is completely open. Go to data.gov or its equivalent in many countries around the world and see for yourself.

The theory behind open data, increasingly born out in practice, is that making information available leads to significant innovation for the public good, while the demand for and use of such data also improves its accuracy and quality over time. And some open data is just fun: one of my personal favorites is the White House visitors list!

What is the Internal Revenue Service Releasing?

Thanks to the Aspen Institute's leadership of a joint effort — funded by foundations and including Foundation Center, GuideStar, the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, and others — the IRS has made 1 million Form 990s and 40,000 Form 990PF available as machine-readable open data.

Previously, all Form 990s had been released as image TIFF files, essentially a picture, making it both time-consuming and expensive to extract useful data from them. Credit where credit is due; a kick in the butt in the form of a lawsuit from open data crusader Carl Malamud helped speed the process along.

The current test phase includes only those tax returns that were digitally filed by nonprofits and community foundations (990s) and private foundations (990PFs). Over time, the IRS will phase in a mandatory digital filing requirement for all Form 990s, with the intent to release them all as open data. In other words, that which is born digital will be opened up to the public in digital form. Because of variations in the 990 forms, getting the information from them into a database will still require some technical expertise, but it will be more feasible and faster than ever before.

The Good

The work of organizations like Foundation Center — which has built expensive infrastructure in order to turn years of 990 tax returns into information that can be used by nonprofits looking for funding, researchers trying to understand the role of foundations, and foundations themselves seeking to benchmark themselves against their peers — will be transformed.

Work will shift away from the mechanics of capturing and processing the data to higher-level analysis and visualization to stimulate the generation and sharing of new insights and knowledge. This will fuel greater collaboration between peer organizations, innovation, the merging of previous disparate bodies of data, better philanthropy, and a stronger social sector.

The (Potentially) Bad

The world of foundations and nonprofits is highly segmented, idiosyncratic, and difficult to understand and interpret. GuideStar and Foundation Center know this.

But many of the new entrants who are attracted by the advent of open 990 data do not. They will most likely come in two forms: startups claiming their new tools will revolutionize the business of giving, and established private-sector companies seeking new market opportunities. Neither is intrinsically bad and both could lead to some degree of positive disruption and true innovation.

The potential downside could be two-fold. Funders inevitably will be intrigued by the startups' technological prowess and newness and divert funding toward them. Foundations are free to take risks, which is one of their virtues. But while needs grow, funding for the data and information infrastructure of philanthropy is limited, technology literacy among foundations is relatively low, and many of these startups will prove to be shooting stars (anybody remember Jumo?).

The second category of new entrants is far more complex and will come in the form of for-profit data-analytics companies. Some of these have business models and immensely sophisticated black-box technologies that rely heavily on government contracts for defense and national security. They will be lured by the promise of lucrative contracts from big foundations and mega-nonprofits and the opportunity to demonstrate social responsibility by doing good in the world.

But these for-profit analytics companies will quickly discover that there is only one Gates Foundation among the 87,000 private foundations and only a handful of richly-resourced nonprofits among the 1.3 million in the IRS registery. And those who choose to contract the services of "Big Analytics" will need to consider the potential reputational consequences of aligning their "brands" with the companies behind them.

Sound defensive? Not at all: Foundation Center welcomes the competition, has been building for it since 2010, and knows the challenge can only make us and the social sector better.

The Ugly

Once 990 data is "in the wild," it is possible, if not probable, that conclusions will be drawn that foundations find uncomfortable, if not unfair. Those who are new to the field and relatively uninformed (or uninterested) in its complexity may make claims about executive compensation based on comparisons of foundations of wildly disparate size and scope.

The same could be done with overhead rates, payout, or any other figure or calculation that can be made based on information found in the 990-PF. Some foundations already chafe when responsible sector advocates like the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) use Foundation Center data to rank foundations according to its Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best. Imagine claims coming over the transom from individuals and organizations whose core values do not include a belief in the practice of philanthropy and a normative vision for how it could be better.

Another potential consequence lies at the intersection of the open 990 data and the growth of impact investing. This was the spirit in which Clara Miller introduced her terrarium analogy to highlight what she sees as the artificial disconnect between the controlled, strategic, and curated world constructed by the grants side of foundations and the sometimes contradictory forces at work in the larger economy in which their assets are invested.

Foundations like Heron are striving to put 100 percent of their assets toward mission, while others like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are divesting their investment portfolios from fossil fuels and, rather than exacerbate the problem, are re-investing those assets in ways that further the goals of their climate change grantmaking.

A recent (and as yet unpublished) Foundation Center survey found that 60 percent of foundations do not engage in impact investing and have no plans to do so. That is their choice, but open 990 data may well put them in a position of having to publicly explain it.

For example, using Foundation Center databases, I searched across several hundred thousand foundation 990-PF returns and found thirty-seven foundations that hold Corrections Corporation of America stock in their investment portfolios. These foundations may well believe, as the majority of foundations insist, that the purpose of the investment arm of the foundation is to generate the highest sustainable return possible in order to fund the mission through grants. But if a foundation holding that stock is striving to work on juvenile justice or improve the lives of black men and boys, an investigative reporter or activist might well ask why they are investing in a corporation that runs private, for-profit prisons

It's 10:00pm, Do You Know Where Your 990 Is?

With the game over for foundation transparency, the big takeaway is to know your 990-PF (or 990 for community foundations). Before you know it, it will be transformed from a bureaucratic compliance document into one of your foundation's key communications vehicles.

Right about now, you may be thinking: "What about the website re-design we spent all that money on, with our new logo, carefully crafted initiative names, and compelling photos?" It's still important, and you can follow the lead of those foundations guided by the online transparency criteria found on Foundation Center's Glasspockets website.

But while fewer than 10 percent of all foundations have websites, they all file 990 tax returns. As the IRS open data release unfolds and mandatory digital filing kicks in, the 990-PF will become one of the primary sources of information by which your individual foundation will be known and compared to others.

I recently asked a group of foundation CEOs whether they ever had an in-depth discussion about their 990-PFs among their board members and was met with blank stares. In a world of digital transparency, this will have to change. As 990s become a data source and communications vehicle, the information on them will need to be clear, accurate, and ,above all, a faithful representation of how each individual foundation makes use of the precious tax exemption it has been granted to serve the public good.

A few simple tips for starters:

  • Take advantage of Section 15 (block 2) to talk about your priorities, grant process, limitations, and restrictions.
  • In Section 15 (block 3), write the correct legal name for each grantee organization and include its EIN or BRIDGE ID
  • In the same section, write clear and compelling descriptions for the purpose of each grant (more than you might think, people look at foundations by what they fund).
  • Make sure all numbers on the form add up correctly (you'd be surprised!).

Regardless of how each of us may feel about the greater transparency demanded of foundations, it is inevitable. Philanthropy is essential to American society and a positive source for good in a challenging world.

As the terrarium walls insulating individual foundations fall, we will surely face a few moments of anxiety and discomfort. But greater transparency, fueled by open IRS data, can only make us more conscientious stewards of our resources, more effective decision makers, and better collaborators on our way to achieving greater impact in the world.

Game over? It's just beginning!

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog.

5 Questions for...Harvey V. Fineberg, President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

May 25, 2016

Established in 2000 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation holds assets of $6.56 billion and in 2013 was the ninth largest U.S. foundation by asset size and tenth in total giving. With a focus on "[tackling] large, important issues at a scale where it can achieve significant and measurable impacts," the foundation's main program areas include science, environmental conservation, patient care, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., joined the foundation as president in January 2015. Prior to that, he served as president of the Institute of Medicine (2002-14) and as provost of Harvard University (1997-2001), following thirteen years as dean of the university's School of Public Health. A co-founder and former president of the Society for Medical Decision Making, Fineberg has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and serves on the boards of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (which he chairs), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the China Medical Board.

PND spoke with Fineberg via email about the foundation's approach to grantmaking in the areas of environmental conservation, scientific research, and patient care.

Harvey_v_finebergPhilanthropy News Digest: As Gordon and Betty Moore, you, and foundation staff have made clear over the years, the Moore Foundation supports fundamental scientific research and embraces experimentation in its grantmaking. Are those two things ever in conflict? And how do you and your colleagues find the proper balance between them?

Harvey Fineberg: Our support for fundamental research enables scientific breakthroughs. We embrace a systematic or "scientific" approach in all of our grantmaking, whether in basic research, environmental conservation, patient care, or at home in the Bay Area.

The systematic approach in grantmaking means that we rely on evidence and investigation, focus on long-term goals, and place a premium on defining measurable outcomes. We develop clear hypotheses that guide our investments. Along the way we continually test our assumptions, challenge our thinking, and, as necessary, adjust our course in pursuit of those outcomes.

In our grantmaking, we are prepared to aim high; we like to identify a path to success, and we are willing to fail in pursuit of a worthy goal. We know that accomplishing big things can take time, and we are investing for the long term.

PND: From your vantage point, does the foundation's focus on evidence make it an outlier in the philanthropic world?

HF: Gordon Moore has encouraged us to "swing for the fences." As we aim to tackle complex, important problems, we understand the world may change in profoundly important ways that we cannot predict. We work diligently to drive change to a certain scale or scope and understand there are times we may fall short. When things don't go according to plan — for better or worse — the most important thing we can do is learn from that experience and try to improve the next time.

Continue reading »

Helen Brunner, Founding Director, Media Democracy Fund

April 27, 2016

Helen Brunner, founding director of the Media Democracy Fund and an advisor to the Quixote Foundation, recently was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her efforts to protect the public's basic rights in the digital age and to secure universal access to a free and open Internet. Central to that work was funding and organizing the successful campaign to preserve net neutrality that culminated in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 decision to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or "throttling" — intentionally slowing — the flow of legal content or services and from offering "fast lanes" for a fee.

PND spoke with Brunner about the role of philanthropy in the ongoing debates over freedom of expression, data privacy, and the impact of social media on civic discourse.

Helen_brunnerPhilanthropy News Digest: The supporters of net neutrality seemed to have won a decisive victory last year, but the issue is being adjudicated again, with Internet service providers suing the FCC over the rules it issued in 2015 to protect the "open" Internet. Given that the court hearing the complaint is the same one that blocked the commission's earlier rules on net neutrality, how hopeful are you the new rules will be upheld?

Helen Brunner: I'm extremely hopeful they will be upheld, because I think this time we got it right. One of the things the commission didn't do in 2010 was to actually reclassify the Internet so that it could be regulated the way the commission regulates telephony. The Internet originally was regulated as a telecommunications service, but then the FCC decided, for a brief period, to regulate it more as an information service. But then they realized the Internet was far too important in terms of driving the economy — and innovation — to hamper it in that way, that the openness and innovation engendered by the Internet wasn't as well protected as when it was regulated as a common carrier. So they switched back, and that is, in fact, the current classification that enabled us to argue for "open" Internet, or net neutrality rules, under the rule of law properly.

So I'm hopeful the court will come back with a positive ruling. We had an extraordinarily good attorney arguing in court for the public interest petitioners, but the one thing that might come back for further review is mobile, which we care very much about because so many vulnerable populations rely on it for their Internet access. If the court feels that adequate notice wasn't given for that rule to be tasked, then the FCC will just go through the procedure again and get it right. That might be a concession the court would make in order to give more time for the big mobile companies to respond as to why they think it's a bad idea. And, of course, it would also give advocates of net neutrality another chance to respond as to why it's so important for the public interest and vulnerable populations for mobile to be neutral. There's a great deal of sympathy at the commission for that position.

PND: Social media played a major role in galvanizing public calls to preserve net neutrality and keep the Internet open. At the same time, social media seems to have had a pretty corrosive effect on civic discourse and the expectation of a right to privacy. Are those the kinds of inevitable trade-offs we all must accept as the price of the democratization of communication in the digital age? Or can something be done to slow or even reverse those trends?

HB: These are societal issues as well, whether we're talking about the coarsening of civic discourse or the aggressive tone of pundits in mainstream media. Social media is indeed amplifying all that, but I think we see polarized discourse everywhere, so it's something we need to address on a broader level. That said, there are some technical innovations that can cause social media to go off on a bad track, including something called "bots" on social media that can be used to drive discourse in a highly polarized direction, as well as techniques that enable companies to create false narratives. Now that isn't to say there aren't real dialogues and genuine arguments on social media, but there are things we can do to address the problem of bots, and there are several projects that different people are working on with the goal of at least eliminating the artificial hyping of phony debates.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2015)

November 02, 2015

To quote the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro: "You are a New York Mets fan...and you know nothing is guaranteed." Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on a spectacular season and a truly memorable World Series victory, their first in thirty years. If you're a Mets fan...well, you don't have to wait that long to revisit some of the winning content we posted in October.

What did you read, watch, or listen to over the past month that had you cheering? Feel free to share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

[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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Investing in Fundamental Science: A Grantmaker's Perspective

May 26, 2015

Harvey_v_fineberg_for_PhilanTopicA half-century ago, Gordon Moore wrote a paper in which he projected that progress in the density and speed of silicon chips would increase exponentially. In his paper, Moore envisioned how this would enable technologies ranging from the personal computer, to the smart phone, to the self-driving car. His prediction became known as Moore's Law, and it has held remarkably true for fifty years. At a recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal paper, Moore talked about the impact of his insight on modern technology and the crucial role of basic scientific research in making it come true.

Moore, a founder of Intel and chairman of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, noted that the technological progress we have enjoyed over the last half-century was enabled by science education and basic research. While the opportunities for discovery have never been greater, commitment to and funding for science — from government, industry, and philanthropy — fall far short of what is needed today to accelerate progress into the future.

In 1965, when Moore enunciated his insights into the development of the microchip, the U.S. government invested about 10 percent of its budget in basic research and development. Today, federal funding for basic research has fallen below 4 percent. 

"I'm disappointed that the federal government seems to be decreasing its support of basic research. That's really where these ideas get started," said Moore. "Our position in the world of fundamental science has deteriorated pretty badly. There are several other countries that are spending a significantly higher percentage of their GNP than we are on basic science or on science, and ours is becoming less and less basic."

Once a hallmark of an innovation-focused American society, corporate labs are almost non-existent today. Coupled with cuts in government funding, the United States is in jeopardy of losing its lead in super-computing, cybersecurity, space exploration, energy, and health care, a recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2015)

March 22, 2015

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

Climate Change

Cold winter, wasn't it? Well, yes, if you were on the East Coast of the United States. Not so much everywhere else.

According to Equities.com, the Guardian has launched a campaign to encourage the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the two largest funders of nongovernmental medical and scientific research in the world, to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil fuel companies. "We have to confront our own inconsistencies," said Professor Chris Rapley, former director of the Science Museum in London. "Either [Gates and the Trust] accept the argument that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or they don't. It's highly symbolic when charities like this make a stand."

Education

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, argues that annual, comprehensive education data is vital to ensuring that all students have access to a quality education.

International Development

In the Washington Post, Kevin Sullivan and Rosalind Helderman offer a closer look at how Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable work in Haiti has both succeeded and failed.

Leadership

On the NCRP blog, Britt Yamamoto, executive director of iLEAP, a nonprofit organization that works to inspire and renew social leaders, shares some key takeaways from the NCRP report Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed?) Philanthropic Opportunity.

Grantmaking

The future of innovation in the social sector is...general operating support, writes Jocelyn Wyatt, executive director of IDEO, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Nonprofits

Boston-based venture capitalist Todd Dagres is a fan of Shark Tank, the ABC business-pitch reality show, and according to the Boston Globe's Sacha Pfeiffer, he's looking to create a competition modeled on the show where "[e]arly-stage not-for-profit organizations could pitch their missions to investors, who would vet them on their plans and fund those they consider most promising."

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2015)

March 04, 2015

For those of us who live and work in the Northeast, it was cold, really cold, in February. Fortunately, we were too busy serving up great content here on PhilanTopic to notice. So, while you wait for the next winter storm to roll in, pull up a screen and see what you missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Five Ways to Improve Your Digital Strategy for Older Donors

February 17, 2015

Older-donors-with-computerSome of the biggest nonprofit campaigns of recent years were most notable for how well they mobilized the ever-elusive Gen Y demographic. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, and the It Gets Better Project's successful YouTube videos helped bring light to important issues affecting the LGBT community. But while these efforts certainly have helped to illuminate the future of fundraising, they haven’t been as successful in engaging older people, who consistently give the largest donations year after year. For those hoping to use technology to connect with their older donors, here are five important points to keep in mind as you create your digital plan of attack.

Older donors are much more tech-savvy than many give them credit for

  • Nearly 3 out of 5 donors age 66 and older currently make donations via the web.

With the rise of tablet computing and streamlined mobile UIs, mobile technology is more accessible to different age groups than ever before. Studies show that in recent years, older users have proven to be very adaptable when it comes to new technologies and are just as likely to donate online as their younger counterparts.

Even though older users need a bit of extra care when it comes to accessibility, it's important that you don't view your older donors as technologically illiterate. The tough part is catering to these older audiences while still creating a digital experience that appeals to younger constituents as well.

Making your site more accessible to older donors

When catering to an audience of older constituents, the ideal goal is to strike a happy balance between quality design and carefully considered user-friendliness.

A few design details in particular, like font size and page navigation, are critical for making a site accessible to older visitors. According to Nielsen's usability tests of users aged 65 and over, older citizens require larger typography, with 12-point fonts (and higher) working best. In addition, older users tend to be more frustrated by frequent site and design changes. While this is less of a design detail, it's a good point to note for web designers who like to make tweaks on a regular basis.

When it comes to driving conversions, make sure you're prominently featuring all of your most common actionable functions. If you have a "donate" button, make it clearly visible on every page. By minimizing the number of clicks between your users and the option to donate or volunteer, you create an online presence that is simultaneously accessible and streamlined. For examples of sites that do this well, visit the Sierra Club, New York Road Runners, or the American Cancer Society.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 29-30, 2014)

November 30, 2014

Advent_wreath2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz asks some important questions about the purpose of civil society -- that peculiar space which "stands alongside, interdependent with the private and public sectors" -- in a democracy, and provides some answers of her own.

Fundraising

The December Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Joe Garecht at the Fundraising Authority, is open for submissions. This month's roundup is dedicated to getting nonprofits (and the people who run and govern them) to think bigger about fundraising. To have your post considered for inclusion, it must be submitted by the end of the day on December 29. Good luck to all!

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, argues (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that social media "has democratized fundraising so that deep pockets are no longer required. Anyone with five dollars and a smartphone can be a philanthropist."

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it may be too late to take advantage of the fundraising advice Hilary Doe, a vice president at NationBuilder, shares on the Huffington Post, but, as she makes clear in her post, truly effective fundraising is all about year-round engagement with your supporters.

International Affairs/Development

How much of the money pledged by donor governments for Ebola relief efforts has been delivered to date? The answer, according to a report by Abby Haglage on The Daily Beast, is "not much."

A text message about a commercial jetliner hitting a water buffalo on takeoff is the point of departure for Zia Khan, vice president for strategy and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, to reflect on India's past, present, and future.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 5-6, 2014)

July 06, 2014

Iced tea_arrangementWe were out of pocket last week, so we've included a few items we missed in this week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Black Male Achievement

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter argues in a post on the HuffPo's Black Voices blog that three myths are hurting young black men and boys:

  1. Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
  2. Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
  3. Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Front and Center - Cleveland blog, guest blogger Brian Sooy, president of design and communications firm Aespire, considers four dimensions of communications that have the potential for strengthening the culture of any mission-driven organization.

Data

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice HuffPo piece on the transformative power of data.

Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.

Economy

Very good post by John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, in response to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker article dismissing Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. It's a bit of a long read, but Hagel's main thesis is that two forces – economic liberalization and exponentially improving technology –are "systematically and substantially" reducing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale while causing businesses and institutions to "fundamentally re-think" their models and arrangements. "Bottom line," writes Hagel, "[these two forces] are catalyzing more opportunity for players to adopt new approaches that can be highly disruptive...[and] increasing both the motivation and ability of players to pursue these disruptive
approaches...."

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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.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 7-8, 2014)

June 08, 2014

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

Climate Change

On the Bloomberg View site, Cass Sunstein, the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard University, provides three rebuttals to the so-called Sophisticated Objection of the fossil fuel lobby and its supporters, an argument which acknowledges that while climate change is a serious problem, unilateral action by any country will impose significant costs without producing significant benefits.

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Lucy Bernholz suggests it's time we started thinking more seriously about how to "collect, organize, govern, store, share, and destroy digital data for public benefit" – and offers a couple of "deliberately half-baked" ideas to get us started.

"Good data practice is not just about the technical skills," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "There is a human side [as well].  It is found between the dashboard and the chair. It includes organizational culture and its influence on decision-making – from consensus building on indicators, agility in responding to data with action, and sense-making. It is the human side that helps nonprofits use  their data for learning and continuous improvement." 

Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, L.S. Hall weighs in with a surprisingly generous consideration of the education philanthropy of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Evaluation

Nancy Roob, president and CEO of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, argues in a post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog that while fears of rigorous evaluation are "justifiable," a broader perspective on the purposes of evaluation can help allay them.

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