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25 posts from December 2011

Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos

December 13, 2011

Our colleagues here in the Research Department have just released a new report that examines foundation giving to Hispanics in the U.S. and for Latin America over the last decade, with a particular focus on the years 2007 to 2009.

Commissioned by Hispanics in Philanthropy, a transnational network of over six hundred grantmakers committed to strengthening Latino communities across the Americas, the report, Foundation Funding for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and for Latin America (22 pages, PDF), found that over the past decade, U.S. foundation giving intended to benefit Latinos remained steady at about 1 percent of total foundation giving, even as the Latino population in the U.S. grew significantly. The report also found that for the 2007-09 period, foundation giving for Latinos in the U.S. averaged $206 million annually.

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Other findings from the report:

  • Among the major areas of activity, human services (27 percent) and health (26 captured the largest share of grant dollars;
  • Nearly two-thirds of the grant dollars targeting Latinos in 2007-09 were for program support;
  • Organizations in the West received the largest share (42 percent) of foundation grant dollars intended to benefit Hispanics, with the vast majority of those dollars going to organizations in California;
  • Among metropolitan areas, the greater Los Angeles area received the largest share (17 percent) of grant dollars and grants (13 percent) over the three-year period -- more than 1,000 grants totaling some $107 million.

Internationally speaking, U.S. foundations gave more than $1 billion for Latin America-focused activities between 2007 and 2009, with just under half of these funds awarded to organizations based in Latin American countries, while just over half went to U.S.-based international programs.

The report also found that Mexico and Brazil each received about a quarter of all grant dollars directed toward Latin American countries, and that the largest share of grant dollars (33 percent) was awarded to environmental organizations and causes, followed by international affairs (20 percent) and health (14 percent).

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To download a copy of the complete report, which includes statistical analyses of U.S. foundation giving for Hispanics/Latinos by funder type, issue area, geographic area, and type of support, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 10 - 11, 2011)

December 11, 2011

First_snowOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

Back to blogging on a regular basis, the Nonprofiteer explains why "the argument for public funding [for the arts] needs to be focused...on the public benefits of art-making."

Communications/Marketing

On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz urges nonprofit communications staff and leaders to observe and learn from the media stumbles of political candidates, CEOs, and others. Good advice, as usual, from Joanne.

International Development

David Schwartz, donor partnerships director at the International Development Research Centre, reflects on lessons learned at last month's Bellagio Initiative Summit on the future of philanthropy and development. For Schwartz, the overriding takeaway was the need for various stakeholders in both international development and philanthropy to know and understand each other better. Contrary to the consensus view at the summit, however, Schwartz believes genuine collaboration between philanthropy and development exists and points to three examples: ESSENCE (Enhancing Support for Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Capacity Efforts) in the area of health research, the International Forum of Research Donors (IFORD), and the Think Tank Initiative.

Philanthropy

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz says we need to "open up" philanthropic data to help innovators think differently about how we can change the world.

In a guest post on the Minnesota Council on Foundations' Philanthropy Potluck blog, Tim Penny of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation explains how, in addition to their grantmaking activities, community foundations add value by identifying "current and emerging issues, channel[ing] resources to address their communities’ needs, and help[ing] their regions prepare for the future...."

Social Media

On the Mashable site, Zoe Fox looks at how activists around the world used social media to challenge the status quo in 2011.

Transparency

Beth Kanter recaps a San Francisco event co-hosted earlier this week by the Foundation Center and the Center for Effective Philanthropy on the topic of transparency and effectiveness. For those unable to attend, Kanter shares some takeaway tweets via Storify here.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- The Editors

[Infographic] Where to Give in the Season of Giving

December 10, 2011

Just in time for the holiday season, the folks at the credit card comparison Web site CreditDonkey.com have put together this warm-and-fuzzy infographic on charitable giving using data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Giving USA, the Foundation Center, and others. In it, you'll find giving totals for corporations, foundations, and individuals, as well as a breakdown of the types of charities receiving the most support.

Enjoy!

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Season of Giving

H/t Charity Navigator

The Foundation Center Turns 55!

December 09, 2011

(The following post was written by Inés Sucre, reference/outreach librarian at the Foundation Center-New York.)

FC_LogoFive years ago, when the Foundation Center celebrated its 50th anniversary, we published a nifty timeline that looked at the history of the center side by side with milestones in U.S. and world history. Take a look -- it's quite wonderful!

The idea of change can sometimes be over-hyped. Even so, the last five years do seem to have brought rapid shifts in the way the Foundation Center serves its mission. Maybe I'm wrong, but consider that…

Back then, in 2006, we didn't have any blogs, not one. Now look at us! The Foundation Center communicates through eight blogs, including the Nonprofit Literature Blog, the first of our blogs to launch; PhilanTopic, a blog of opinion and commentary that draws contributors from all over the country; and our field office/library blogs.

Back then, we didn't tweet -- no one did. But today we're tweeting from our offices in San Francisco and New York -- and lots of places in between, too, like Cleveland, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. And our main Twitter feed (@fdncenter) has more than 15,000 followers, from all over the world!

Of course, foundations are tweeting and blogging as well. So Foundation Directory Online Professional now has a Social Media tab for feeds and links to all this great content.

Back then, we had one Web site -- foundationcenter.org, which I've always loved (even before I worked here). Now, in GrantSpace, we have a new site dedicated to nonprofit grantseekers, to forging an online community, and to offering a "a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector."

Back then, we did very little training online. Now, our full curriculum of free classes is available in the form of webinars, with classes conducted by the same wonderful instructors who lead classes in our five learning centers.

Back then, we didn't have a standalone Web site to promote greater transparency in philanthropy. Today, Glasspockets opens the world of foundations and philanthropy to all.

Back then, although we focused our training and reference work on the topic of collaboration, we didn't have an online portal dedeicated to it. Now, thanks to our partnership with the Lodestar Foundation, we maintain the Nonprofit Collaboration Database. Check it out!

Back then, we had about 230 Cooperating Collections in our Cooperating Collections network. Today, we have over 450 and have even opened Cooperating Collections in nine countries. This network of libraries, service organizations, and community foundations provides funding information and training -- as well as access to the center's databases and core publications -- to nonprofits across the U.S. and in an ever-growing number of countries.

Back then, we didn't have the highlighted text below as part of our mission statement:

To strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge about philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world.

Now, we do, and our data collection and dissemination efforts are being expanded and becoming more international in scope. This not only serves to broaden the audience for our servces and publications, it also helps to inspire an open flow of information about global philanthropy and global needs. Our data is also being put to greater use in our new mapping tool, Philanthropy In/Sight®, which maps the impact of (and shows the need for) philanthropy around the world.

On December 10, 1956, the Foundation Library Center, as we were known then, opened its doors with the goal of collecting, organizing, and making available to the public "reports and information" about foundations. An article in the New York Times heralded that beginning as "an important event in the history of American philanthropy … it can and should do a great deal to forward the cause of 'full disclosure' in a field where it is needed" (New York TImes, 12/11/1956).

As Foundation Center president Brad Smith wrote in announcing Foundation Center 2020, our new strategic plan, "If you believe, as we do, that philanthropy is an engine for positive social change, then please join us in our effort to nurture it, to support and advance the work of those around the world who transform lives and make the world a better place."

Happy fifty-fifth anniversary, Foundation Center!

-- Inés Sucre

Making Smart Investments in Human Capital

December 07, 2011

This article is a summary of Making Smart Investments in Human Capital (12 pages PDF), a report co-authored by James Weinberg, founder and CEO of Commongood Careers, and Dana Hagenbuch that draws on a series of four regional convenings organized by Commongood earlier this year. At those meetings, nonprofit executives, HR practitioners, evaluation experts, and funders sat down to discuss best practices, challenges, and emerging issues related to the subject of hiring and cultivating nonprofit employees. Over two hundred attendees representing a hundred and sixty-two organizations participated in the conversations.

Human_capitalIn the nonprofit sector, the focus on demonstrating and quantifying programmatic impact has never been greater. As grantmakers, foundations, government partners, and other intermediaries emphasize accountability for programmatic outcomes, nonprofits are stepping up to the plate with key performance metrics for assessing the impact of investments. This response to evolving philanthropic decision-making has spurred a culture shift throughout the sector resulting in an increase of data-driven, results-oriented programmatic strategies, particularly among social entrepreneurs and organizations seeking to make a major and measurable difference on the communities they serve.

While organizations have developed sophisticated models, systems, and tools for measuring program impact, little attention has been paid to measuring other types of organizational investments. This failure to invest in holistic organizational development has its roots in the historical reticence of the foundation community to make investments in the key functional areas often categorized as "overhead." Investments in programs are highly visible and have a direct impact on the constituent community, and that's good. But when managed correctly, every dollar invested in a nonprofit plays a role in organizational outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to human capital. Without investments aimed at getting the right people in the right roles, as well as efforts to support employee performance and drive a positive work culture, an organization cannot effectively deliver on the promise of its programs. If this is true (or at least generally accepted), why don't organizations invest more in their people?

In our "Uncommon Conversations" meetings this spring, 95 percent of participating organizations indicated that they had made at least some investments in human capital over the past few years, but mostly in such baseline areas as building organizational culture and hiring staff to manage transactional HR functions. Significantly fewer participants indicated they invested in enhancing management systems, catalyzing leadership development, and hiring senior human capital leaders -- some of the most strategic investments possible.

When asked about the human capital outcomes that are most important to their organizations, respondents overwhelmingly indicated staff performance as the most important, and staff satisfaction and retention among the least important. This mindset is typical of the dynamic that has led to high burnout and turnover expenses in the nonprofit sector; it is shortsighted thinking that has significant long-term consequences for the sector.

Across the convenings, there was tremendous enthusiasm for exploring a range of strategies that impact the ways we recruit, develop, and retain our people, as well as ideas about ways to measure the effectiveness of these investments. Some ideas that received the most enthusiasm included:

Invest in a strategic human capital hire. Sam Cobbs, CEO of First Place for Youth, expressed the value of investing in a senior management hire: "Bringing on a Director of Talent Management met a need we didn't even know we had. This hire has been instrumental in creating and implementing a performance management framework for mapping strategic organizational goals to department and individual work plans. As a result, we've been more effective at closing performance gaps and creating a talent-driven culture. We've seen higher levels of staff engagement, which translates to the frontlines of our programs."

Build integrated systems to drive performance. Today, many organizations rely on limited, disparate systems that are unable to respond to the evolving needs of an organization as it grows. A strong performance management system tracks and evaluates individual performance against larger organizational goals, provides employees with an understanding of what's expected of them, and let's them know how their individual goals fit into the bigger picture.

First "what," then "how." Organizations must first set clear goals about what it is they wish to measure, and then determine how to measure that. There was an overall sense that we are not doing enough today to measure these investments, and attendees recognized the importance of taking a results-oriented approach to their human capital systems and practices.

Taking the Next Steps

Identifying investments in human capital is easy. Taking the next steps is hard. The following are a few suggestions to help leaders determine, implement, and measure the right set of human capital investments for their organization.

1. Human capital mind shifts happen from the top down. When it comes to prioritizing investments in human capital, there is no substitute for a highly engaged CEO. In addition, an engaged committee of an organization's leadership is instrumental in gaining the support of staff, funders, and other influential stakeholders. Some organizations have created a position on their board to play the role of treasurer of human capital, mirroring the treasurer of financial capital that all boards are required to have.

2. Get funders involved. In the pre-event survey, respondents indicated that the key influencers of decisions related to human capital are executive team members (98%) and board members (62%) but not funders (12%). There is an opportunity for grantees to lead funders through an education process that illustrates the costs of turnover, poor performance, and low staff satisfaction, and how these conditions negatively impact program deliverables.

3. Budget for investments. Build line items in the budget that are devoted to human capital investments such as costs associated with consultants, systems, retreats, trainings, and surveys, as well as budgeting for a leadership role like Chief Talent Officer. In addition to creating an expense budget, predict cost savings, such as decreased recruitment and turnover costs, into budgets as well.

4. Build the case for the outcomes you want to achieve. Employee survey data, focus groups and stakeholder interviews are effective ways to determine the greatest needs for investments. Involving both internal and external stakeholders will make it easier to gain support for these initiatives.

5. Build better models for evaluation. The nonprofit sector can borrow much from the work that has been done in the private sector in this area. Some of these models include the Bain RAPID Decision Model, McKinsey Capacity Assessment Grid, Goal Alignment Cascade, and TCC Group's Core Competency Assessment Tools.

Conclusion

Throughout these conversations, organizational leaders readily conceded that human capital was their number one success-determining factor, but not their number one organizational priority. The sector has worked to professionalize other functional areas, most notably finance, fundraising, communications, technology, and strategy. Strategic human capital still lags behind. Nonprofit HR today harkens back to a time of basic, tactical, and transactional personnel management. Only by assessing the investments that will have the greatest impact on our organizations can we hope to make the most progress along these lines and secure the philanthropic support that we need. By prioritizing strategic human capital and making investments accordingly, organizations unlock their potential for growth and social impact.

-- James Weinberg and Dana Hagenbuch

Poverty in America: A Conversation With David R. Jones, President, Community Service Society of New York

December 05, 2011

David_jones_css(On Thanksgiving Day, the New York Times noted in a lead editorial that "one in three Americans -- 100 million -- is either poor or perilously close to it." The editors at the Times based that assertion on an analysis of recent U.S. Census Bureau data. Two days earlier, D.C.-based Wider Opportunities for Women published an even higher figure -- 45 percent -- as the percentage of the nation's residents lacking economic security. Whatever the exact number, it's clear that millions of Americans are stranded on islands of economic desolation marked by failing schools, sub-standard housing, inadequate healthcare services, and rampant crime.)

Struggling to make ends meet has been a characteristic of life in the United States since its founding. Recent Census figures suggest, however, that the number of Americans living in poverty has reached "an historic high of 46.2 million." According to another study from the Brookings Institution, the number of Americans living in communities where poverty is "extreme" -- neighborhoods in which at least 40 percent of the population is poor -- soared by one-third between 2000 to 2009. Brookings, which based its study on 2000-2009 income data from the census, notes that the increase over the last decade erases all the economic gains of the 1990s.

Regular contributor Michael Seltzer recently spoke with David R. Jones, president of the Community Service Society of New York and one of the nation's leading advocates on behalf of the poor, about his thoughts on poverty in America and what the growing ranks of low-income New Yorkers can do to escape their predicament.

Michael Seltzer: According to a Brookings Institution study released on November 3, the number of Americans living in poverty has grown by more than a third over the past decade. In New York City alone, 1.6 million people -- approximately one in five New Yorkers -- are living below the poverty line. What are the consequences of that for New York?

David Jones: Those statistics are terrifying on a number of levels. The poverty level is the same in Manhattan as in rural Mississippi. However, the housing costs in rural Mississippi, obviously, are dramatically lower than in New York. A family of three can buy a lot more goods and services in Mississippi on $17,500 dollars a year than can a family living in Manhattan.

MS: What is the role of the Community Service Society in addressing the economic problems faced by low-income New Yorkers?

DJ: Throughout our hundred-and-seventy-year history, poverty has been our exclusive focus. Our founders perceived poverty in urban areas as a potential danger to civic order. They understood that as more and more people drift into poverty, key elements of the economy and our democracy are undermined. They believed strongly that if you didn't provide low-income people with economic opportunity, you were endangering the civic fabric. And in a multi-ethnic city like New York, keeping the civic fabric in good repair is vital. For those reasons and others, we have always taken a three-pronged approach to our work: research, service, and public education.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 3 - 4, 2011)

December 04, 2011

Advent_wreathOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Environment

On the Mother Nature Network, author Chris Turner (The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy) suggests that the problem with the modern environmental movement is "a maddening combination of Much Too Big and Way Too Little": Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Durban -- "the entire international emissions treaty process...[is] predicated...on convincing essentially the whole world to take [the first step] all at once, in unison," while our individual decisions to use eco-friendly products at home just aren't going to change the world. In his post, Turner offers advice about how to nurture your own activism and points to the solar energy boom in Gainesville, Florida, as an example of right-sizing a community sustainability effort.

As part of Occupy the Future, a forum on lessons to be drawn from the Occupy movement hosted by the Boston Review, Paul and Anne Ehrlich (co-authors, most recently, of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment) offer a much darker view of the "conflict" between capitalism and the environment. "It is clear that we must redesign governments to regulate the marketplace so that most externalities are internalized for the good of society," write the Ehrlichs. "Everyone should recognize that old-time capitalism, like socialism and communism,

simply has not and cannot generate the sustainable redistribution and material and population shrinkage that are essential to creating an environmentally sound and equitable global society. The challenge is immense and unprecedented, with the dilemma exacerbated by plutocrats buying politicians and funding a powerful and effective disinformation machine programmed to lie about environmental threats. Overcoming that machine will require much cooperation, which won’t likely be achieved without new institutions and a broad increase in social justice. And these will require what the Occupy movement apparently demands: that we step back and consider whether the society we’ve built is indeed the one we want. But we have no choice but to meet the challenge. Either we will change our ways, or they will be changed for us.

Fundraising

Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks explains why the advent of Web 2.0 fundraising tools has not killed direct mail. "Direct mail is the greatest fundraising medium ever created -- after the church collection plate," writes Brooks. "It's changing, getting more complex and more expensive. But it's not dying."

Health

On the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Dr. Bart Haynes, head of the NIH NIAID Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI), marks the thirtieth anniversary of the global AIDS epidemic by reflecting on the progress that has been made in developing a safe and effective AIDS vaccine.

In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal ("No Retreat in the Fight Against AIDS"), George W. Bush recounts the successes over the last decade of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). More than 4.7 million people have received AIDS treatment through the Global Fund and PEPFAR, Bush notes, while some 450,000 children have been born HIV-negative due to the latter's programs to disrupt mother-to-child transmission. And while acknowledging that "in lean budget times the U.S. and developing world must prioritize," the former president closes by urging Congress to think twice before it cuts funding for the programs.

On the same topic, Open Society Foundations program officer Shannon Kowalski gives two reasons why it's unlikely AIDS will be eradicated: "political will and the money to do it." Writes Kowalski:

These two barriers came into painfully clear view last week when the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that it was cancelling its latest call for applications for funding and adopted a set of drastic measures so that it could maintain funding for the essential services that it is currently supporting. At precisely the moment we've realized how to curb HIV, donors have left the Global Fund treading water, struggling to keep funding flowing to preserve the lives of those who are already on treatment....

And in "World AIDS Day: The Role of Religion," the Council on Foreign Relations' Isobel Coleman writes that "[t]he obstacles to achieving an AIDS-free generation -- and the benefits of this achievement for humanity -- make the constructive involvement of religious institutions crucial." While religious leaders have "contributed to the epidemic by denying the importance of condoms in HIV prevention and contributing to the stigma that AIDS patients already confront," Coleman writes, USAID is partnering with religious leaders in places like Indonesia to "facilitate the implementation of HIV policy statements" and "share a compilation of fatwa (religious guidance) on HIV prevention."

Journalism/Media

Author, NYU professor, and new media deep thinker Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations) brilliantly rebuts a lengthy piece in the Columbia Journalism Review written by Dean Starkman in which Starkman argues "for the continued relevance of existing news organizations, especially newspapers, in something very close to their current form." It's long, well worth reading, and includes this observation: "No medium has ever survived the indifference of 25 year olds...." Indeed.

Philanthropy

The folks at the BlackGivesBack blog need your help selecting the top ten celebrity philanthropists of 2011. Anyone can vote, as long as they do it before Sunday, December 11.

Social Justice

At the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Sara K. Gould, former president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, shares key findings from Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy (35 pages, PDF), a new study which she authored with help from colleagues at the Cricket Island Foundation, the Foundation Center, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, and the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a great week!

-- The Editors

Why Measuring Impact Remains an Elusive Goal (cont.)

December 03, 2011

Bertillon_calipersDriven in part by growing social needs and a difficult funding environment, impact assessment has emerged as a potential answer to the problem of inefficient resource allocation in the nonprofit sector. Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Earlier this year, Bill Schmabra, director of the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson Institute, penned an op-ed for the Chronicle of Philanthropy in which he argued that measurement in philanthropic work was neither new nor an effective way to approach grantmaking.

Schambra's piece inspired Larry McGill, the Foundation Center's vice president of research, to post a rebuttal on the center's TRASI (Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact) site, which we reposted to PhilanTopic, where it became the most popular post on the blog in November and generated some terrific comments.

Larry's post also generated some great comments on the TRASI site, including one from John Colburn, vice president for operations at the Ford Foundation (and a Foundation Center board member). With John's permission, we've reprinted his comment in its entirety below:

Thanks to both Larry and Brad [Smith, president of the Foundation Center] for starting a conversation on this and to William Schambra for getting the ball rolling in the first place.

First, a general thought: There is a sense in Schambra's piece that because impact assessment is hard and has yielded such limited results, we should simply give up on it. Yet, if one studies the emergence of other disciplines, it is clear that the advancement of knowledge and understanding occurs because a handful of practitioners persevered against the broader culture of practice and what can reasonably be "known" in order to elicit whole new understandings.

Funders and grantees, then, need to "keep at it," but in deference to Schambra, we should try to identify and avoid repeating the same mistakes that have yielded such limited results to date. Here are a few ways we can be smarter....

a) Let's separate accountability and compliance -- important though they are in any funding relationship -- from impact assessment. The conflation of the two results in over-elaborate monitoring tools that distract from the impact-assessment process. I think this has been the challenge for many public sector funders and grantees and Schambra is right to criticize these practices as detracting from, rather than advancing, the achievement of impact.

b) Let's agree that simpler and inexact processes help move the ball on impact assessment. Often, we let the perfect be the enemy of the possible in impact assessment. While the computation of a 5 percent confidence interval has its place in some kinds of impact assessment, simply asking "was this grant worthwhile and did it advance the goals of the funder" can often yield surprising insights. Program officers are hired for and often praised for their horse sense in picking grantees; we should use that same horse sense in assessing the success and impact of a grant. My most meaningful impact assessment activity as a program officer took one morning of work when I reviewed one hundred grants, asked myself which ones significantly exceeded impact expectations, which ones didn't, and what the two groups of grants and grantees had in common. This simple exercise helped me to identify the type of grantmaking more likely to lead to higher success as well as more prone to failure and led to a restructuring of the portfolio and revision in strategy.

c) Let's agree that sharing our results -- successes and failures -- makes us all smarter. This means we need to begin to develop a common framework for describing our work, our goals, and our results. This allows funders to learn from one another and avoid repeating each other's mistakes. The boring and un-glamorous work of coding grants and developing funding taxonomies is an essential building block for developing and sharing knowledge.

d) Let's agree that there is complexity in impact assessment, but not let that stand in the way of seeking universal truths. Yes, context matters. And many grantmaking objectives involve engaging complex ecosystems where attribution of any cause or effect is almost impossible to discern. And, yes, there are bound to be varying levels of quality in formulating and implementing impact assessment. Still, I am convinced that there are underlying commonalities to our work that allow us to learn from one another and begin to build a body of knowledge of what works and what doesn't.

I look forward to continuing the conversation.

And here is Larry's response:

John, thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I would like to underscore what you said about the need to separate accountability from impact assessment, although I might rephrase it to say that we need to separate accountability from "learning." When learning is the goal of assessment, it is done in an entirely different spirit than when it is done for purposes of compliance.

Assessment done in the spirit of accountability or compliance can become obsessively focused on whether specific measurable target outcomes have been achieved, as if meeting those particular outcomes were the only way of determining whether an intervention worked or not. This leads to a "success vs. failure" mentality, a reductionistic view of how progress ought to be measured, and creates a wholly counterproductive pressure to game the system.

It also places an inordinate amount of faith in our ability to rigorously specify theories of change. The measures we choose as indicators of success are based entirely on our theories about how change is supposed to happen. I'm not convinced we know enough about how change happens in complex social settings (or how to measure it) to be able to place a confident bet that a particular intervention will lead inevitably to achieving some predetermined, measurable outcome.

In other words, I think we are still very much (and need to remain) in a learning mode when it comes to figuring out what works. The wisest use of our assessment dollars, in my opinion, would be to make sure we don't lose the opportunity to learn whatever it is that a particular type of intervention has to teach us about how change happens.

I do acknowledge, along with John, that accountability and compliance are important. But it seems to me that we skip a step if we jump straight to accountability without first passing through "learning." A mantra I'd like to see the field adopt is - "Learning before accountability."

What do you think? Should impact assessment be separated from questions of accountability (in Colburn's formulation) or "learning" (in McGill's)? Are we putting too much faith in our ability "to rigorously specify theories of change"? Or is measurement in philanthropic work, as Schambra suggests, a luxury we cannot afford?

This Week in PubHub: Giving/Volunteerism Trends

December 02, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examine the impact of the Great Recession on rental housing and what philanthropic institutions are doing to address the situation.)

With the giving season in full swing, PubHub will be featuring reports on a wide range of topics about philanthropy and voluntarism through the end of the year. This week we're highlighting four publications that look at how much and why people give.

Researched by the folks at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and published by the Giving USA Foundation, Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2010 Executive Summary (34 pages, PDF) reports that estimated total giving increased 2.1 percent (adjusted for inflation) in 2010, to $290.89 billion, while giving by individuals increased an inflation-adjusted 1.1 percent. The report also found that corporate giving rose 8.8 percent, charitable bequests jumped 16.9 percent, and giving by foundations fell 1.8 percent. Funded by Blackbaud, the David and Linda Shaheen Foundation, and the Schwab Charitable Fund, among others, the report finds reason for optimism in the overall giving number but suggests that a return to pre-recession giving levels will be delayed by the the slow and uncertain nature of the recovery.

According to the Urban Institute report What's Been Happening to Charitable Giving Recently? A Look at the Data (7 pages, PDF), it would take six years at the current rate for charitable giving in the U.S. to return to its pre-recession level. Donations by individuals, which account for up to 80 percent of total giving, were hardest hit by the recession, with cash and non-cash contributions falling 13 percent and 47 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2009. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report also analyzes the effects of past tax policy changes with respect to charitable giving and finds that replacing the deduction with a 12 percent tax credit would result in a bigger drop in contributions than would capping the deduction at 28 percent.

In The Giving Commitment: Knowing Your Motivation (7 pages, PDF), the smart people at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors look at some of the reasons why individuals as different as George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, and Oseola McCarty -- a washerwoman with a sixth-grade education who gave $150,000 of her life savings to fund college scholarships for African-American students -- give. Whether motivated by legacy, faith, values, a sense of obligation, or some other factor, it is important, the guide suggests, for donors who want to be more strategic and effective in their giving to articulate their motivations and clarify what they hope to achieve.

Religion and identity are two of the factors discussed in Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults (66 pages, PDF), a report from Repair the World in partnership with the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications. Based on a survey that asked young Jewish adults about their motivations, attitudes toward, and concerns about volunteering, the report found that while individuals whose parents volunteered and those who are deeply engaged in religious life are more likely to volunteer on a regular basis, only a small percentage actually do so with Jewish organizations. And whereas some see their volunteer work grounded in Jewish values of compassion and social justice, others consider these to be universal values and do not see their volunteer work in connection with Jewish tradition, values, or identity. The report suggests a number of strategies for engaging a broader cross-section of young Jewish adults in volunteering, including framing service in universal terms and as a responsibility of Jews to help others in need, regardless of religious affiliation.

What motivates you to give or volunteer? And what determines how much you give, in what form, and to which causes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse nearly fifteen hundred reports related to philanthropy and voluntarism.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2011)

December 01, 2011

After a very busy October, November -- Thanksgiving and all -- turned out to be another busy month at PhilanTopic. In descending order, here are the five most popular posts for the month.

What were you reading/watching/listening to last month?

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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