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164 posts categorized "Strategies"

A Marriage of Commerce and Cause: How Rotary Is Staying Relevant in the 21st Century

June 20, 2017

Time_to_adaptIn 1905, a lawyer, a merchant tailor, a mining engineer, and a coal dealer met in downtown Chicago. Rotary's founders initially were looking for an opportunity to build relationships and promote their businesses. A hundred and twelve years later, Rotary has matured into one of the world’s largest membership and humanitarian nonprofit organizations.

The work of Rotary's 1.2 million members combines the building of community connections with humanitarian efforts such as promoting peace, providing clean water and sanitation, preventing disease, and alleviating poverty — challenges that are just as pressing today as they were when Rotary was founded.

Yet, as is true of many large organizations in the world today, Rotary faces the ongoing challenge of staying relevant at a time when technology and organizations new to the NGO space are changing the landscape of philanthropy.

For example, the number of social sector organizations in the United States has increased some 8.6 percent since 2002, while by some estimates there are now approximately 1.44 million nonprofits registered with the IRS. Part of this growth reflects society's increased reliance on nonprofits to fill service gaps in areas where cash-strapped governments are no longer able to deliver on past promises.

In addition, with a greater range of charitable opportunities and new models for fundraising (e.g., peer-to-peer, mobile, crowdfunding), there is increased competition in the nonprofit marketplace for both supporters and donations.

In the face of these challenges, how can nonprofits like Rotary continue to thrive? Over the past few years, Rotary and its members have been thinking about that question and, after much discussion, have developed a plan to address the challenge. Below are three concrete steps we have taken or are taking.

1. Staying relevant for boomers and millennials. Organizations in the twenty-first century must structure themselves in ways that encourage sustained engagement opportunities, especially with respect to a millennial generation that tends to identify with causes and social impact more than with hierarchically organized institutions. Of the approximately 80 million millennials living in the United States, a recent study showed that 87 percent are interested in volunteering or participating in their company's corporate social responsibility programs, while nearly half have volunteered for a cause or nonprofit in the past month.

At the same time, it is equally important that we engage people at the other end of the demographic spectrum. As the New York Times reported in 2015, organizations like Rotary are an attractive option for the 10.6 million Americans over the age of 65 who want to stay active and engaged and who are eager and in a position to give back to society.

The importance of this change is underscored by the insights of Michael McQueen, an author, business consultant, and Rotary member. In the diagram below, McQueen illustrates the fact that sustained relevance is rarely linear, and that when an organization has passed its peak relevance (the red x), a reinvention is in order if it hopes to remain relevant.

Rotary_Silent Pulse
Fig. 1: What is Your Silent Pulse?, Michael McQueen

 

Organizations can avoid the downward slide by taking appropriate action, which is what Rotary did when a series of independent surveys revealed that many non-members (and even some of our members) could not fully explain our mission, or why people should join.

After lots of analysis and introspection, we began to address these issues by sharpening and strengthening our brand identity. That effort has borne fruit, as we surpassed our target of $1 billion in current and projected endowment assets two years early. We also were recently ranked no.3 in a CNBC and Charity Navigator profile of the top 10 charities changing the world in 2016.

2. A unifying cause: eradicating polio from the face of the earth. Staying relevant in a rapidly changing world also involves setting audacious, transformational organizational goals that serve to engage and motivate members and supporters. In Rotary's case, the big one has been the eradication of polio globally.

In 1985, Rotary, a nongovernmental organization — not a government ministry or multilateral institution like the UN — had the audacity to take on the challenge of eradicating polio. Thanks to our efforts and those of our partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the incidence of polio around the world has been reduced by 99.9 percent over the last thirty years — making it one of the most successful public-private global health partnerships ever.

There were four key factors that enabled Rotary and its large, diverse membership to achieve this goal and stay focused on it for three decades.

The cause was relevant to our members. Polio was endemic in a hundred and twenty-five countries when Rotary announced its goal to eradicate the disease in 1985. Rotary is an international organization, and, as a result, many Rotary members had first-hand experience of the disease and the suffering it causes.

Hands-on participation. The use of the oral polio vaccine made it possible for any Rotary member or supporter to become a vaccinator and forge a deeply personal and emotional connection to a cause that went beyond simply writing a check or attending a fundraising event.

Results were measurable. Success and victory were easily measured — you either had polio cases in the world or you did not. Our members set themselves a concrete and achievable goal with clear metrics for success.

We didn't do it alone; finding good partners is crucial. When Rotary decided to tackle polio in 1985, we knew we couldn't do it alone. So we assembled a coalition in 1988 to achieve the goal — the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joined more recently by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and allowed each to define its role in the effort.

As part of GPEI, Rotary has leveraged its unique strengths in fundraising (Rotary members have contributed more than $1.6 billion to the eradication effort), advocacy, awareness raising, vaccination initiatives, and enlisting the support of governments.

One irony of this incredible project is that we could become victims of our own success. Over the three decades that we have worked to end polio, there was always the danger that the goal would become less relevant to a younger demographic, particularly in developed countries where the virus had been eradicated. To avoid mission fatigue, our response has been to highlight the opportunity of being a part of history and contributing to the eradication of a human disease for only the second time ever, after smallpox in 1980. The approach has resonated.

3. Shifting the paradigm: social good becomes part of the value proposition. As the world rises to the challenge of a new set of ambitious United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, nonprofits able to blend commerce and cause will play a key role. Organizations that do this effectively also will be well positioned to meet millennials’ insistence on integrity, accountability, and social good as core corporate values.

Making these values part of your organizational DNA is critical. At Rotary, the promotion of business ethics and our focus on maximizing positive social good is a core organizational principle. Rotary's Four-Way Test — which asks of the things we think, say, or do: Is it true? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it benefit all? — has guided Rotary leaders and members for more than a century.

In the for-profit sector, however, adding social value is not always embedded in a company's mission, and corporate social responsibility initiatives often can seem like discretionary add-ons to a firm’s business objectives.

If that is to change, the social value of a company's work must become a key performance indicator for executives in the way that share value currently is.

The question, then, is how to unlock the significant potential of the private sector as a key engine of sustainable growth and a force for improving lives globally. This is where nonprofits can lead. NGOs can help bridge the gap between private capital and local causes, providing the capacity, leadership, and experience needed to forge smart partnerships.

For example, Rotary partnered with global healthcare company Abbott to offer Mega Wellness camps in India and Brazil. These are daylong events where doctors and laboratory assistants provide free consultations and healthcare information to all walk-in patients about a range of health issues. Over the life of the partnership, Rotary and Abbott teamed up to provide care to 26,226 people at thirty-eight different events, and Rotary volunteers helped raise awareness of the camps, mobilized support within the various communities, and helped spread the word about the benefits of polio immunization.

Partnerships like this also help Rotary establish a legacy for our flagship polio program by demonstrating to communities in which we work our commitment to public health more broadly and our ability and willingness to provide resources to back that commitment up. Last but not least, they provide a framework for a deeper, more sincere commitment from the private sector beyond the limitations of strategic corporate social responsibility. And that helps advance an ongoing paradigm shift in the for-profit world from a model where shareholder value and the maximization of profit are all that matter to one where creating positive social impact is a core element of every company’s model.

So, as nonprofit leaders, how can you ensure that your organizations are positioned to compete for hearts, minds, and dollars in the twenty-first century? It's pretty simple: Stay true to your DNA but take steps to make sure you stay relevant; identify a big, audacious goal that motivates your teams and mobilizes your supporters; and maximize your impact through smart partnerships. Do all three and your organization is likely to not only survive but thrive in the years to come.

Headshot__John_HewkoJohn Hewko is the general secretary of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation.

‘Justice Matters’ and the Power of Film to Persuade

June 12, 2017

JusticeMattersEach year, Justice Matters, a special series within Filmfest DC, the annual Washington, DC International Film Festival, shines a spotlight on some of the best new social issue films from around the globe. This year, three of the films were judged outstanding by jurors and audience members.

Filmmakers throughout the history of the medium have felt the need to address injustice, poverty, and other social concerns, prodding audiences to reflection and action, a tradition that continues today. As Filmfest DC founder and director Tony Gittens noted in launching Justice Matters in 2010: "What better city to highlight this tradition than our nation's capital, the vortex of ongoing debate on how best to further democracy and equitable treatment for all." And what better time than the present.

I was happy to catch the Justice Matters 2017 program during this year's festival in April. I had attended Justice Matters in 2012, highlighting 5 Broken Cameras in an earlier PhilanTopic post and was eager to see this year's selection of films, especially The Good Postman, an intimate story about the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe set in Bulgaria, where I'd lived for two years.

This year's lineup included eight award-winning films that explore some of the most pressing challenges of our time and some of the most creative and courageous responses to those challenges: corporate corruption (150 Milligrams); corrosion of public trust and the need for a free press (All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone); the privatization of public education (Backpack Full of Cash); refugee integration (The Good Postman); the crisis in Syria (Last Men in Aleppo); and climate change (Tomorrow). Two of the films mined the past for lessons and inspiration: one a personal recollection of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (The House on Coco Road); and a musical quest set during Freedom Summer (Two Trains Runnin’).

(All the films should be available in other festivals, theaters, broadcast, or on the Internet. More information about each is on the Justice Matters site and/or on the films' websites.)

Jurists for the series included Conrad Martin, executive director, the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and executive director of the Fund for Constitutional Government; Montré Aza Missouri, founder and director, Howard Film Culture; and Kathryn Washington, director of diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The impetus for Justice Matters was provided by two Filmfest DC fans. Ken Grossinger, who had a career as a community and labor organizer, and Michelíne Klagsbrun, an artist, have always been deeply concerned about social and economic justice. In 2007, they started the CrossCurrents Foundation to support those interests. A family foundation, CrossCurrents' broad funding interests include civic engagement and the environment, peace and security, civil rights, and public art. Both founders had been attending Filmfest for many years and appreciated seeing films that addressed issues they cared about.

"I always believed in the power of art to inspire social movements, to work toward social change," Klagsbrun told me.

Grossinger came to appreciate that potential through his wife, Klagsbrun. "Organizers know how to move the needle a few percentage points," he said. "But I realized that for shaping public opinion, there is nothing like the arts. There's a transformative power there that penetrates hearts and minds in a way that political discourse doesn't. And film offers visibility to issues on a scale beyond the reach of many approaches to community organizing. Together, a strong film coupled with an organizing strategy can advance social change."

Soon after they created their foundation, the couple contacted Gittens with a proposal to establish the Justice Matters film series and award. Gittens was enthusiastic about the idea and hired Linda Blackaby, a longtime festival programmer whose career has centered around connecting films with communities and who was already advising the festival on its annual lineup. (She's now the festival's senior programming consultant and has curated the Justice Matters series since its inception.)

"Over the past eight years, Justice Matters has featured forty-one films," Blackaby told me. "And thanks to the Wyncote Foundation, we've been able to create that community connection, too: taking films out to schools and other settings, using social media to reach new audiences, and bringing the filmmakers and resource people to post-screening discussions."

That combination of films-plus-impact appealed to Grossinger and Klagsbrun. "We were involved early on with Good Pitch, which really influenced our thinking in this area," said Klagsbrun.

Good Pitch helps filmmakers find financial support for production costs and community engagement activities, connect with nonprofit organizations working on the issues captured in their films, and build relationships with industry representatives. It's supported by a range of funders, and though it now offers a variety of events around the world, its core program remains focused on filmmakers who are trained to "pitch" their films to a select group of potential donors and partners.

"Good Pitch gets it right in their approach to advancing social change," said Grossinger. "They provide support for both production — the making of the film — and for impact. The filmmakers learn through Good Pitch that it is as important to understand organizations and the work they do as it is to produce a film about those same issues. Good Pitch links the two. We've supported the production and subsequent organizing of several films through Good Pitch."

The CrossCurrents Foundation has continued to look for new ways to carry out its mission, supporting a range of projects, including the mural project in Baltimore that helped sustain that community as it was grappling with the death of Freddie Gray. And it continues to look for ways to support film. Grossinger and Klagsbrun are enthusiastic, for example, about a new project: Double Exposure, a three-day film festival featuring investigative journalism-inspired documentaries and a concurrent symposium for film projects developed by teams of filmmakers and journalists. As traditional media has cut back on its coverage of complex issues, and many online media sources offer only superficial coverage of such issues, policy experts and consumers alike recognize the role that serious films can play in sustaining good journalism.

Blackaby's work on the audience-engagement component in Justice Matters relates to that concern and takes advantage of the festival's home base in Washington, as Gittens, from the beginning, hoped it would.

Feras Fayyad, co-director of Last Man in Aleppo, is Syrian; as a filmmaker in that war-torn country he was jailed and tortured. He now lives in exile in Denmark but continues to receive death threats. The film is about two men who work for the volunteer Syria Civil Defense group, or White Helmets, an NGO that became famous for its work rescuing victims of the intensive shelling and bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"We provide links to White Helmets and two other NGOs, and Feras promotes involvement from the audience," says Blackaby. "It's an example of some of the films we show that have a very clear activist agenda. But our aim is also to support these filmmakers in their professional development, to help them continue to bring social issues to the fore. Feras was here for four days, watching the other films, meeting those filmmakers, and making contacts that will continue to sustain his work."

For Damani Baker, the director of The House on Coco Road, the project was personal: his family was living in Grenada when the U.S. invaded the country in 1983. But the film also is an informed exploration of the politics of the Reagan years. Justice Matters set up interviews for Baker with WPFW's "Voices With Vision" host Netfa Freeman, a political analyst at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C, who interviewed him for one of the post-screening discussions, and Kojo Nmandi, host of the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, who interviewed him after a second screening — a more substantive experience for the filmmaker and the audience than the usual post-screening Q&A.

Through a collaboration with DC-based Teaching for Change, screenings and post-screening discussions of The House on Coco Road, Backpack Full of Cash, Two Trains Runnin’, and All Governments Lie also were taken to six local high schools. In addition to conversations with the directors and producers, students met with Judy Richardson, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member and civil rights activist who shared her own personal experiences behind the events depicted in Two Trains Runnin’. (For more details and great photos about those events, check out this report on the Teaching for Change website.)

Not all social issue films have a concrete impact agenda, however. "Sometimes there are short-term measurable outcomes to a film's social change goal," Blackaby says. "But the experience of viewing a film can also resonate over time, deeply affecting one’s consciousness and understanding."

For their part, Grossinger and Klagsbrun see increasing interest in film within the grantmaking community.

"I participated in an arts and social justice workshop some eight years ago organized by Claudine Brown, who at the time worked at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The meeting took place immediately in advance of the annual Grantmakers in the Arts national conference," Grossinger (a GIA board member) told me. "Only fifteen people came. But several years later, we had to close registration for the same event at one hundred. And subsequently, GIA held an all-day meeting designed to bring film funders together with other arts funders to explore possibilities for collaboration. Foundation board members still need to be persuaded, but many grantmakers agree that it's a winning strategy to fund film production and the associated impact campaigns, especially when the film's content lines up with a foundation’s priorities."

At a brunch at the Grossinger-Klagsbrun home in Georgetown, on the next-to-final day of the festival, the filmmakers, the community engagement partners, the Filmfest DC staff and consultants, the award jurists, and funders gathered to celebrate. In thanking everyone and reiterating his vision for the festival, Gittens emphasized the potential of film, even in a time when we're challenged to make sense out of the nonsensical.

"I want the audience to be changed," said Gittens. "I want them to walk out of the screening thinking and feeling differently than when they walked in. And I think Justice Matters makes that happen."

The next day Grossinger announced the Justice Matters jurors' awards: best film, 150 Milligrams, with an honorable mention for The Good Postman and the overall festival audience award for best documentary going to Last Men in Aleppo.

Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Check out her other great posts for PhilanTopic here.

[Infographic] Navigating the Online World of Nonprofit Storytelling

June 03, 2017

Storytelling is as old as fire. And over the millennia, storytellers have left us a trove of sayings and observations about the power and importance of good storytelling.

"It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling" (Khalil Gibran)

"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all" (Joseph Campbell)

"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell" (Annette Simmons)

Yes, some of the settings in which stories are told have changed, as have many of the techniques. But as this week's infographic, courtesy of the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University, reminds us, "Stories" — the kind that people remember and respond to — "chronicle a character who undergoes some kind of change or transformation." Joseph Campbell couldn't have said it better.

Here at PhilanTopic, we've been exploring the world of stoytelling with the likes of Thaler Pekar (here, here, here, here, and here) for close to a decade. But even we were surprised by some of the findings presented below. (And, yes, in the nonprofit world at any rate, text still rules.) Enjoy!

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A Call for Inflection Point Funding

May 15, 2017

Broken_ladder"A strategic inflection point is the time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

– Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It's always been important to think about how private philanthropy can fill gaps in the social safety net that government, with its lower risk tolerance, cannot. At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we're increasingly attracted to inflection point funding — not a new concept but an approach that provides a different lens through which to look at our efforts. What makes inflection point funding interesting, in my opinion, is that, in addition to strategic partnerships with other funders, catalytic initiatives, and targeted solutions, it forces us to look hard at the obstacles that keep low-income youth from realizing their full potential.

Inflection point funding seeks to change the course of young people's lives at key junctures. I think of it as a ladder offering underserved children a way out of poverty. A child may move easily through the early stages of development, but at some point a rung in her development ladder will be missing or broken. Then what? In too many cases, she gets tired or discouraged and stops trying to climb.

Most of us are familiar with the ladder metaphor. Less familiar are the challenges so many disadvantaged and underserved kids face when trying to climb the ladder to success. Suppose, however, that with philanthropic support, we could develop solutions that enabled every underserved child to reach the next rung, and the rung after that, and the rung after that (or even the first rung). If you look at inflection point funding as a way to support kids who desperately want to climb the ladder to a brighter future, you'll understand why we're attracted to it as an approach.

That said, it isn't always easy to identify inflection point opportunities. There are no guidelines, only questions in need of answers. My own first question always is: Could our funding for a strategic intervention create opportunities for  young people to reach new heights? And, conversely, could the failure to solve the problem lead to other obstacles and challenges for the young people we were hoping to help?

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5 Questions for...Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation

May 04, 2017

Since joining the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia Juech has led the foundation's efforts to identify and assess new, large-scale opportunities for impact across the foundation's priority areas and spearheaded its horizon scanning activities, informing both strategy and programs.

Recently, PND spoke with Juech about Rockefeller's "scan and search" activities, an approach the foundation is using to bring more diverse voices into the earliest stages of its work, ensure that all early-stage decisions are based on the best available evidence, and ultimately do the most good with the resources it has.

Headshot_Claudia_JuechPhilanthropy News Digest: What were the factors that led Rockefeller to adopt the "scan and search" approach? What are its benefits over more conventional approaches to philanthropic investment? And has your background in finance shaped your thinking about what the foundation can and should do to maximize its impact?

Claudia Juech: We wanted to develop a tool that would help the foundation generate the most impact for its investment — and to do that, to truly achieve transformative change, we needed to cast a wider net. That entailed a couple of things: in addition to being guided by our in-house experts, we realized we needed to reach out and listen to a broader spectrum of voices, and to look at problem areas that we hadn't considered previously. And we wanted to find ways to put the "winds of change" at our back — to identify changes that were already happening and could help us achieve our impact goals.

In comparison to more conventional philanthropic approaches, it's very open-ended and opportunity-driven. Rather than settling on a strategy or approach beforehand — say, increasing agricultural productivity — and then doing research to confirm our assumptions, we look at problems affecting vulnerable populations and try to keep an open mind in terms of deciding which issues we want to work on and how.

We're looking at big spaces, big fields, big problems where we want to make big bets. And there are a couple of things from my experience at Deutsche Bank, where I was responsible for trend monitoring, that I've tried to apply to my work here — using futures methodologies, for example, to predict "winds of change" trends. We start by looking quickly at about a hundred options, potential big bets, and then winnow them down to those we think will generate the biggest bang for our buck. I see some similarities with venture philanthropy in the belief that not every investment will have the impact you want, and that you look across a wide range of options and try to place informed bets. We look at a broad range of options, from cybersecurity concerns for the poor, to issues of energy poverty, to urban food insecurity, to neglected tropical diseases, and we ask where we could make the most headway, and what we can bring to the table in terms of our assets and competencies. Eventually we'll move on to dedicated, rigorous research and stakeholder consultation on a short list of options.

PND: What are some of the challenges you faced in shifting to the "scan and search" approach — internally with foundation staff, as well as externally, with grantees? And are there any lessons you could share with the field?

CJ: I think the short answer is that the work is not any easier with this approach. It might provide a broader array of opportunities and in the end lead to better results, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a "silver bullet," any more than other approaches would. We've learned a couple of things, though. Internally, there have been a lot of questions about the staff's "ownership," engagement, and role in shaping these ideas. Typically, our investment ideas had been developed by, for example, someone leading the foundation's agricultural program, so when a separate "scan and search" team was tasked with casting a wider net for ideas, well, it initially created some tensions and challenges. It was a change-management process for the first two years. And in some ways I feel that tensions will always exist around mechanisms designed to ensure that outside perspectives are included in the planning process and that we don't fall into programmatic silos, which is one of the things scan and search is meant to address.

Over the years, we've developed different processes designed to bring in our colleagues and their expertise. We work closely with our in-house experts, who are our partners and advisors in the work of surfacing new ideas, and we use various facilitation methods, internal huddles, ideation meetings, and the like. In fact, some of those methods are now being used after the work has progressed to a later phase. So, we've advanced the work of the foundation not only substantively but also methodologically.

Externally, because scan and search is used in the very early stages of the initiative pipeline, the implications for grantees have not been that dramatic. We reach out to a broader universe beyond our grantees, to experts and people who can provide insights or who are directly affected by the problem. Although often the work we do ends up informing the work our grantees are doing as well.

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A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Socially-responsible-investingOne hundred percent of foundations and philanthropists have set up their portfolios for "impact." But in the words of Heron Foundation CEO Clara Miller, "they just don't know if their impact is positive or negative."

The assumption has been that foundations and philanthropists would be among the earliest adopters of investment strategies that align their portfolios, their values, and the social change they are trying to achieve. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to the Global Impact Investing Network's 2016 Annual Impact Investor Survey, foundations in 2016 accounted for only 4 percent of an estimated $77.4 billion in impact investment assets under management. At the same time, there is much in the report to be excited about, starting with the finding that survey respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the performance of their impact investment portfolios. In fact, "[e]ighty-nine percent (89%) reported financial performance in line with or better than their expectations, and 99% reported impact performance in line with or better than expectations."

There are many foundation leaders who are well aware of the potential of impact investing to drive social and environmental change. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, principal of Blue Haven Initiative, captures the sentiment of a growing number of philanthropists: "Just your philanthropic dollars are not enough to solve big world problems. We have a responsibility to use everything we have to make an impact."

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

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"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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A Surprising Prize: Passion and Vision

November 17, 2016

3d-vision-passion-crossword-textThe Rathmann Challenge is helping to address the basic needs of two million kids across the country. Maybe someday soon the Challenge will assist in cooling the earth’s temperature.

Having constructed a hybrid granting vehicle that we hoped would provide all the upside of prize philanthropy while minimizing the downside (see Part I, "Small Dollars, Big Ideas"), all we needed now was to figure out the problem we wanted to address with our first Rathmann Challenge. We knew our founders had their passions with respect to philanthropic objectives, so we turned to the foundation’s grant history over the last twenty-five years for guidance. There were grants to the arts, to healthcare, to dog parks, to…well, everything imaginable. Fortunately, there was one piece of data that stood out; approximately 50 percent of our total funding was directed, in one manner or another, to education. Coupled with the involvement in that field by a number of foundation members, we had the subject of our first Challenge.

Education. Perfect…except, not so much. What problem could we possibly solve related to education that the likes of the Gates and Annenberg foundations had not already addressed — and, with four log orders more money!

The only way to find out was to pick up the phone and start calling every person we knew in the field. Soon, anecdotes were streaming in from all over, and they led us to two words: Basic Needs. Stories about kids missing classes because they had no way to get to school, being too distracted to learn because they hadn't eaten a solid meal or hadn't had a safe place to sleep for days, or feeling ashamed because they lacked the resources to buy a pencil and notebook, let alone a backpack. The more we listened, the more we learned about the endless number of missing essentials interfering with kids' ability to be ready for learning. Someone, somewhere, had to have come up with a solution to at least one of these problems.

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A Surprising Prize: Small Dollars, Big Ideas

November 14, 2016

BigIdeasThe Rathmann Challenge is helping to address the basic needs of two million kids across the country. Maybe someday soon the Challenge will assist in cooling the earth’s temperature.

My family has been fortunate in the for-profit world to experience firsthand how a relatively small amount of money, if applied well (and with some luck), can launch a big idea. Would the same hold true for the nonprofit world? The Rathmann Challenge is a grantmaking tool devised for that purpose — finding good ideas that might scale to create value for many.

As with other family foundations, our founders were gracious, kind, and…a powerful influence. After their departure, we needed new options for going forward that would honor their creativity, entrepreneurial ethos, and innovative spirit. At its core, the Rathmann Challenge is like any other prize philanthropy program — with all the pluses and minuses. It garners attention by highlighting an issue of the day and then making an award ($100k in this case) to one winner ("the Challenge Recipient"). This is great news for the Challenge Recipient, of course, but not so great news for all the others who spent time working on their applications and received nothing. Perhaps even worse, all the great attention the prize brings to an important problem fades quickly after the excitement of the initial award. We wondered whether the model could be tweaked. Was there a way to make the Challenge a little less "winner take all" and a little more "applicant beneficial?" The simplest and most direct method would be to pay a small stipend to each applicant for applying, but the likely effect on the quality of our applicant pool was concerning. We needed instead to devise a process that, by its very nature, would create value for each applicant willing to put the resources into applying.

Three principles guided our efforts. First, the difficulty of each step of the process had to mirror the likelihood of success for the applicant at that stage. Second, the application itself needed to serve as a tool to help organizations promote existing internal practices that addressed the interests of funding organizations like ours (e.g., the ability to think critically and provide an honest self-assessment about past successes and failures). And, third, the criteria for a winning application needed to prompt each organization to spend time considering ways to scale their impact in the future (and thereby motivate and inspire strategic planning irrespective of the organization’s success in the Challenge).

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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 mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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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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

Why Collaborate?

August 04, 2016

CollaborationCollaboration in the social sector takes many different forms and can be approached in a variety of ways, but before nonprofits address the what and how of organizational partnerships, they should consider the most important question of all: Why?

Everybody loves collaboration — in theory. I mean, who doesn't believe that two or more nonprofits working together to achieve common goals is a good thing? To not think that would be churlish, right? But put aside the feel-good factor for a moment and let's be honest: collaboration is not a good in itself unless it serves a definite purpose.

Nor is collaboration always the answer. A nonprofit has any number of strategies to choose from to advance its mission, and partnering with others is just one of them. But when considering which strategies to pursue, it can be helpful to think about certain kinds of partnerships as lending themselves to certain types of goals.

Collaboration

Although I've already used the term "collaboration" in a broad sense to refer to organizations that agree to work toward a common goal or purpose, it can also refer more specifically to the most common types of partnership, which tend to be limited in duration and degree of organizational integration. Some of the goals that can be advanced through collaboration include:

  • Pooling expertise or resources in co-sponsored or shared support of a time-limited effort.
  • Amplifying a policy message around a shared cause or issue through joint advocacy.
  • Creating and sharing collective wisdom and knowledge through collaborative learning.
  • Leveraging networks of like-minded organizations to tackle social issues requiring sustained, coordinated action.

Alliance

Alliances tend to be more formal and longer term than collaborations (though they need not be permanent), while still allowing a significant level of organizational autonomy. This type of partnership can be useful for advancing goals such as:

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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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