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A 'Flip' Chat With...Kate Robinson, Producer, 'Saving Philanthropy'

November 03, 2010

(This is the tenth in our series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can access other chats in the series here, including our chat with Will Weiss, executive director of the Arts & Business Council of New York.)

"Are we making a difference?"

No question in recent years has generated more debate within the nonprofit sector. And the sides in that debate, if not the terms, have been reasonably clear: those who believe that impact and effectiveness are predicated on clearly articulated strategy, regular measurement of well-defined outcomes, and dissemination of lessons learned; and those, like Dan Palotta, who believe that the tools used to measure effectiveness are flawed and that a focus on measuring effectiveness is likely to "create a market around the problems that are easiest to solve."

A debate, in other words, for those with strong opinions and a thick skin. Or so I thought until I met the charming Kate Robinson, founder and director of FSP Creative Advocacy and a former director of strategic initiatives for Social Solutions Global, Inc., a leading provider of performance management software. Kate is executive producing (and her brother is directing) Saving Philanthropy: The Voyage From Resources to Results, a one-hour documentary film that spotlights a number of social service organizations (Roca, Nurse-Family Partnership) using performance management systems and outcomes measurement to achieve extraordinary results. (To watch a trailer for the movie, click here.)

Earlier this week, I chatted with Kate about her reasons for making the movie, her advice for organizations looking to demonstrate their effectiveness, and why philanthropy needs to be "saved."

If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.

(Total running time: 7 minutes, 5 seconds)

What do you think? Should nonprofits be doing more to measure their effectiveness? Is it even possible to do so in "an evaluation landscape cluttered with distinct and warring [assessment] methodologies" (as the Monitor Institute puts it)? And if it is -- or is at least worth trying -- who should bear the costs of those efforts?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   November 04, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Interesting idea for a film, but I question why -- at least in the trailer -- someone can be allowed make a pretty damning claim (that appears to go unchallenged) that there's "absolutely no way of knowing if any nonprofits are doing any good." Also would like to see the source for other hyperbolic claims that make it sound like all grantmaking is slipshod because it doesn't look at performance data.

Posted by Kate Robinson  |   November 11, 2010 at 11:31 AM

Hi Bruce- Thanks so much for taking the time to watch the interview and the trailer, and to post your comments. In response, David Hunter (not just "someone" btw, but one of the most most informed and prominent critical voices in the sector) doesn't say "any" non-profits, he says "most," which is a pretty big difference, not to mention completely accurate. Most non-profits cannot, in fact, demonstrate that they are "doing any good" let alone achieving their stated goals.

Second, Steve Goldberg states not that "all" grantmaking, but 90-95% of it, is based on relationships and storytelling. Your interpretation that this is slipshod is accurate in my opinion, but I disagree that it can be dismissed as hyperbole. As for the source, please consult Steve Goldberg's book (listed in the trailer) "Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets: Why Philanthropy Doesn't Advance Social Progress."

Thanks again, and we sincerely encourage you to see the film when it comes out early next year, as these concepts are meant to only be raised in the trailer, and thoroughly addressed and explored in the film itself.


Kate Robinson
Producer, Saving Philanthropy

Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   November 12, 2010 at 04:26 PM

Kate, I was wrong to say "any" instead of "most." Apologies. I'll agree that we don't know if nonprofits are doing any good. That said, it's possible that most are -- we don't know. I objected to the comment because it has a "guilty until proven innocent" quality. That might just be me. On the other hand, we'll have to disagree that saying grantmaking is "slipshod" is not hyperbolic.

Posted by Kate Robinson  |   November 16, 2010 at 04:26 PM

Fair enough Bruce! I do understand your issue with the guilty until proven innocent stance, although it is our contention that the onus for demonstrating effectiveness does in fact rest with the non-profit organizations. After all, they are operating on the premise that they can effect some type of positive change- so why should they not be held accountable for doing so?

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