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Weekend Link Roundup (February 9-10, 2013)

February 10, 2013

Storm-nemoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


Guest blogging on the GuideStar blog, Big Duck founder Sarah Durham shares three fundraising trends that gained traction in 2012 -- more sophisticated data collection and analysis, greater use of social media by nonprofit executives to engage with constituents, and more effective use of online technologies -- and suggests three things that nonprofits should add to their to-do lists in 2013: collect AND analyze data, "open up," and act fast when a crisis strikes.


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Ellie Buteau discusses the organization's new Room for Improvement report, which found that funders often request performance information that is more useful for them than it is for their grantees. "More than half the nonprofit leaders we surveyed agreed that funders care more about performance information that is useful to the foundations than information that is useful to the grantees. Only 28 percent of nonprofit leaders disagree with this sentiment," writes Buteau. "Not surprisingly, the more strongly nonprofits believe funders are prioritizing their own data needs over nonprofits', the less helpful they find their funders to be to their organizations’ ability to assess its progress."

Steve Lohr has an interesting post on the New York Times' Bits blog about the etymological origins of the term "big data."

And in an article in Wired, Nassim Taleb, the former derivatives trader who popularized the concept of "black swan" events, offers a few cautions designed to temper our current enthusiasm for data of the big variety. "Big-data researchers," he writes,

have the option to stop doing their research once they have the right result. In options language: The researcher gets the "upside" and truth gets the "downside." It makes him antifragile, that is, capable of benefiting from complexity and uncertainty -- and at the expense of others.

But beyond that, big data means anyone can find fake statistical relationships, since the spurious rises to the surface. This is because in large data sets, large deviations are vastly more attributable to variance (or noise) than to information (or signal). It's a property of sampling: In real life there is no cherry-picking, but on the researcher's computer, there is. Large deviations are likely to be bogus....

The Bridgespan Group's Daniel Stid has nice things to say about a just-released working paper from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation titled "Evaluation Principles and Practices." "The first two principles articulated in the paper," writes Stid, "are especially noteworthy":

  1. We lead with purpose. We design evaluation with actions and decisions in mind. We ask, "How and when will we use the information that comes from this evaluation?"
  2. Evaluation is fundamentally a learning process. As we engage in evaluation planning, implementation, and use of results, we actively learn and adapt.

"These two principles are reciprocal," writes Stid. "The first emphasizes that information gleaned from evaluations will be used for decisions and actions; the second that the point of evaluation is learning, adaptation, and course correction." What would you add to the list. use the comments section below to share your thoughts.


On the Knight Foundation blog, Eric Newton lists ten digital tools that Michael Maness, the foundation's vice president for journalism and media innovation, think journalists should be familiar with. To that end, the foundation, in partnership with the Poynter Institute and the American Press Institute, has launched a series of tutorial webinars to help media people learn new tools as fast as they're coming out. Eventually, tutorials will be available for all the tools in Newton's post, including DocumentCloud, Panda, Poderpedia, Timeline.js, Scraper Wiki, TileMile/Map Box, Frontline SMS, Zeega, Amara, and Ushahidi. Newton also likes video notebook and Storify. "News [changes] constantly," he writes. "So [do] the tools. Journalists [need to] be as creative and enterprising about how they do the news as they [are] about the news itself."


If there's one thing we should take away from the uptick in charitable giving at the end of 2012, it's that professional and legal advisors counseled their high-net-worth clients to take advantage of existing tax laws, writes Ellen Remmer on the TPI blog. "So, hurray for uncertainty in the tax laws! If it drives charitable giving then I'm all for it; but let's take note that the drivers of this 'river of money' were the advisors to the affluent."

Writing on the White Courtesy Telephone blog, Albert Ruesga reflects on "an extraordinary thing [that] happened some three years ago at the Council on Foundations annual meeting in Denver: philanthropy was put on trial." The session, which featured Gara Lamarche, then-CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, as the prosecuting attorney and Ralph Smith, senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, for the defense, was extraordinary for a number of reasons, writes Ruesga, but most of all because nothing was done after the conference was over "to explore what it meant for the grantmaking profession that five out of six of its practitioners, chosen at random, voted to condemn it." Writes Ruesga:

While philanthropy may have gone on trial three years ago, we're not past the moment when we can fruitfully ask those five out of six why they voted as they did. If, as I suspect, their judgment represents the general sentiment of the field, what, in their view...are the primary reasons why grantmakers tend to underperform? Is it because foundations generally fail to identify and address the root causes of our problems, treating only their symptoms? Is it because foundations are too top down, woefully in the habit of doing "to" rather than "with"? Do they fail to deliver social change because their work is little governed by metrics or business principles? or is it because there's such an attenuated sense of accountability at many of these institutions?...

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Josh Baron, co-founder and partner at Banyan Family Business Advisors, has a different take on why philanthropy so often fails to take advantage of "unprecedented opportunities" to make a difference in society -- and what can be done to change the existing calculus of social good.

On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Bella Vista Foundation executive director Mary Gregory explains why her organization decided to develop a theory of change and how that process was used to help other groups interested in creating their own theory of change.

Social Media

On the Minnesota Council on Foundation's Philanthropy Potluck blog, Megan Sullivan shares highlights from the Chronicle of Philanthropy's most recent Social Good podcast, in which Allison Fine and Kivi Leroux Miller, president of Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com, discussed how nonprofits can use social media to achieve social good.

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

-- The Editors

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