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20 posts from December 2012

Demystifying Corporate Responsibility Rankings

December 07, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. In November, she reviewed Roger Thurow's The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.)

Csr_globeCorporations have long collected data generated by and/or relevant to their operations โ€“- everything from sales figures, to permit applications, to industry trends and customer behavior. Increasingly, however, regulatory and watchdog groups are demanding that companies provide information about the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

As the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has gained traction, indices and lists that seek to quantify and rank company activities according to sustainability principles have proliferated. Financial analysts, media groups, and independent consultancies today produce annual assessments of everything from the amount of carbon companies put into the atmosphere to the sustainability of their supply chain management and the diversity of their boards. Those metrics, in turn, are often used by customers, investors, and prospective job candidates to determine their level of engagement with a particular company.

Earlier this year, the Foundation Center added a CSR tab to the company profiles in Foundation Directory Online that highlights nearly two dozen of these corporate sustainability ratings lists and presents basic information from them in a user-friendly format.

But in an emerging field characterized by a multiplicity of definitions and standards, even simple numbers can be hard to make sense of. Using hundreds of data points and a unique methodology, SustainAbility, an independent think tank and strategy consultancy, has taken it upon itself to "rate the raters" in order "to better understand the universe of external sustainability ratings and to influence and improve the quality and transparency of such ratings." As the firm is quick to note, many of these lists have been introduced within the last five years and there's plenty of room for improvement.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more prominent ratings lists/indices:

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The Role of Design and 'Design Thinking' in Philanthropy

December 05, 2012

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly, an award-winning philanthropy consultant, evaluator, and speaker, is the principal author of the popular Philanthropy411 blog, where this post originally appeared.)

At the turn of the twenty-first century, after decades of percolation in academia, the concept of "design thinking" began to appear in popular business literature and conversation. Although finding a clear, consistent explanation of design thinking is rather like asking bridesmaids to agree on the perfect shade of blue, Wikipedia gave it a shot:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

Ill-defined problems. Combining empathy, creativity, and rationality in developing a solution. Sounds perfect for philanthropy, doesn't it? It's no wonder, then, that as design thinking has become manifest in the business world, it's beginning to pique the interest of the funding community.

In a recent conversation with Kyle Reis, Manager for Strategy and Operations at the Ford Foundation, we pondered the question of how foundations might partner with design communities to help them learn how to more fundamentally and intentionally integrate design and design thinking into their work.

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How Collaborative Learning Can Make Organizations Smarter, Stronger, and Better Positioned to Scale: A Q&A with Andrew Wolk and Wendy Yallowitz

December 04, 2012

Collab_learning_thumbnail_319_319Andrew Wolk is founder of Root Cause,
a nonprofit research and consulting firm that partners with nonprofits, philanthropy, government, and business to advance solutions to today's toughest social issues, and Wendy Yallowitz is a program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, which supports social innovations with the potential to grow to scale. For almost two years, Root Cause helped guide RWJF grantee More Than Wheels, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps people get the best deal on a reliable and fuel-efficient car, through a facilitated merger exploration with Ways to Work, a Milwaukee-based community development financial institution that provides short-term low-interest loans to working poor families with challenging credit histories -- a merger that ultimately failed to materialize. From the process, however, Root Cause and RWJF developed a "collaborative learning" framework that allowed both organizations to learn from each other and emerge with stronger, smarter strategies than they would have on their own. The lessons learned are available in "Collaborative Learning: A Case Study on More Than Wheels and Ways to Work," which is available as a as a downloadable PDF from the RWJF site bookstore.

In the following Q&A, Andrew and Wendy shed light on how collaborative learning turned a failed merger exploration into a success. A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.

Transparency Talk: What is collaborative learning, and what are its origins?

Andrew Wolk: It's an intentional effort between two organizations to exchange, analyze, and apply knowledge that will lead to better outcomes. More specifically, collaborative learning is a structured, facilitated learning process that allows for in-depth knowledge exchange without the organizational and cultural challenges of mergers. Based on a four-step framework, the process can serve as an alternative to merger discussions -- or a "plan B" in the middle of merger talks that aren't working out.

Wendy Yallowitz: It's a good time for this type of framework. When you consider how nonprofits continue to grow in number and are continually asked to do more with less, it's more common for foundations to encourage similar organizations to figure out whether there's a way to optimize resources. Hence, we're seeing more merger explorations like the one we pursued with More Than Wheels and Ways to Work.

AW: As for origins, this potential merger brought about the framework. We know from past experience merger talks can present huge barriers, and we were running into some of those things. At a certain point, we decided to take an approach whereby we lifted the pressure of mergers or formal collaborations and partnerships as expectations so that the two organizations could work together to solve problems and grapple with strategic questions.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 1-2, 2012)

December 02, 2012

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

Communications

On the Big Duck blog, Jenna Silverman shares some social media tips for maximizing exposure for an article, blog post, newsletter feature, or report:

  1. Don't be afraid to state your conclusion right away;
  2. Use jargon-free and audience-centric language; and
  3. Use include images if it's posted to Facebook, and hashtags if shared via Twitter.

"Just remember," adds Silverman, "that your followers on Twitter are expecting something different from the people that like you on Facebook. Facebook users don't want to see hashtags and your Twitter followers don't want you to waste space with full URLs. Instead of auto-feeding those updates across all platforms, write new messages for each one. You'll see a difference."

Giving

Last week saw the debut of Giving Tuesday, a national movement to boost support for nonprofit organizations at the start of the annual holiday season. Despite all the hoopla surrounding the event, not everyone was a convert. Writing on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Timothy Ogden, managing director of the Financial Access Initiative at New York University and executive partner at Sona Partners, said he wasn't convinced the campaign would "materially affect giving in any positive way." The United States, writes Ogden,

has a deserved reputation for generosity when it comes to charity. According to GivingUSA, total annual giving now tops $300 billion. What many don't realize, given that the GivingUSA numbers change each year (usually in a positive direction), is how static the giving behavior of Americans is. Americans on average give about 2 percent of their income. When they earn more, they give more. When they earn less, they cut back. Over the last 10 years the percentage of national income given away (according to GivingUSA's totals) has varied from 2.1 to 2.2 percent. The only thing that has changed that percentage in the last 40 years, according to the Minneapolis Fed, is a tax law change that led to many wealthy people starting foundations at the end of 1986....

Ogden goes on to say that "while Giving Tuesday may make Americans' giving more visible, there's no reason to believe...it will affect how much they give." More likely, he writes, is that it will "shift more giving to the week of Thanksgiving from other times of year." We're not sure whether that's a good or bad thing. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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[Infographic] What the AIDS Epidemic Still Reveals About Us

December 01, 2012

This week's infographic, courtesy of Colorlines.com, shows that the contours of the AIDS epidemic remain unchanged. As Kai Wright notes on the Colorlines site, "Globally, those who have access to social and economic capital avoid the virus or, when infected, live healthy lives with it." In the U.S., meanwhile, the epidemic increasingly affects black gay and bisexual men and black women.

On World AIDS Day 2012, we stand with all those who are working to increase awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV/AIDS prevention, here in the U.S. and around the globe.

 

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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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