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Weekend Link Roundup (June 22-23, 2013)

June 23, 2013

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

Big Data

To get the most out of "big and open data," you need to know what the data is being used for and you need to be transparent, writes Abby Young-Powell, content coordinator for the Guardian's Voluntary Sector Network. In her post, Young-Powell shares data literacy advice from ten experts, including Mike Thompson, senior consultant at mySociety, who counsels nonprofits "to be clear about what question you're trying to answer before you set up your data collection and analysis activities," and James Noble, a professional social researcher at New Philanthropy Capital, who advises nonprofits not to "jump to their final outcome...without considering the intermediate steps that are vital to attribution and are often easier to measure."

Health

On the GrantCraft blog, Greater NYC for Change president Naomi Rothwell reflects on the critical support Atlantic Philanthropies provided over the years to efforts to get the Affordable Care Act passed. The New York City-based foundation is in the process of spending down its assets, however, and Rothwell wonders which foundation or foundations will step up to fill the critical role Atlantic has played in the social justice arena. What do you think? Share your thoughts here or in the comments section below.

Human Rights

On the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Caitlin Stanton, director of learning and partnerships at the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, highlights findings from a new report on human rights grantmaking issued by the International Human Rights Funders Group in partnership with the Foundation Center. Among other things, the report, Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking, found that "foundation grantmaking to address these issues occurs on a global scale and is a widespread practice, with 703 foundations giving a total of $1.2 billion in grants for human rights causes in 2010." You can download the complete report (142 pages, PDF), free of charge, here.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a post on the GuideStar blog, GuideStar president/CEO Jacob Harold announces the launch of a campaign to debunk the "overhead myth." Writes Harold:

My counterparts at BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator, Art Taylor and Ken Berger, respectively, have joined me in signing an open letter to the donors of America denouncing the overhead ratio as an indicator of nonprofit performance -- though recognizing its rare utility as a filter for fraud.

The letter, published today on a new website, www.overheadmyth.com, states that "Overhead costs include important investments charities make to improve their work: investments in training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems -- as well as their efforts to raise money so they can operate their programs. When we focus solely or predominantly on overhead...we starve charities of the freedom they need to best serve the people and communities they are trying to serve." The letter instead recommends that donors focus their attention on more relevant factors behind nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results....

And in a different post on the GuideStar blog, special project fellow Kjerstin Erickson explains how the focus on administrative costs adversely affected the organization she created. "I starved [my organization] to death," she writes. "We were the epitome of what we thought was the righteous path: an organization that is lean, mean, and ready to sacrifice for the greater good. [But in] the end, we collapsed under the weight of our own naiveté and short-sightedness."

What's your take on the "overhead myth"? Are donors and the media unduly focused on nonprofit administrative costs, to the detriment of nonprofit effectiveness? Or is the campaign to debunk the "myth" a mea culpa by Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance for doing as much as anyone to legitimize the focus on adminsitrative costs as the measure of nonprofit effectiveness? Use the comments section below to share your thoughts....

Innovation

On the Chronicle of Philanthropy site, the always-insightful Cynthia Gibson argues that, unlike science, technology, business, and academia, where "people are encouraged -- and are given forums -- to express opinions and disagree with each other publicly," nonprofits and foundations "continue to embrace a culture of silence and politeness that gets in the way of their growth and vitality." How can we avoid that trap? Gibson shares some questions to consider before racing to pronounce the "next big new important thing":

  • Is what's being touted as "new" really new or is it just something old with different packaging?
  • Is there evidence to show that the idea has promise?
  • Who's behind the idea?
  • Is the idea pitched in jargon-laden hype that suggests it can solve every problem?
  • Does the idea take nonprofits away from their missions?
  • Has the idea been designed with suggestions from the people it’s supposed to help?

Is she right? Or is the cost of speaking "truth to power" simply too high to have it become accepted practice? To join the conversation, click here.

Measurement

In a post on her blog, Beth Kanter shares the news that her second book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World, which she co-wrote with KD Paine, has been nominated for the 2013 Terry McAdam Book Award. For a nice, quick preview of the book's contents, check out this "Flip" chat we recorded with Kanter last fall.

Philanthropy

Writing on the Philanthropy Journal blog, Alissa Hauser of the Pollination Project -- which is awarding $1,000 a day, every day this year, to a different social change visionary -- discusses her organization's idea of pollination philanthropy. "Pollination philanthropy focuses on seeding nascent social change projects and passionate and creative leadership," writes Hauser. "By dividing a large chunk of money into targeted micro-grants, more good work gets funded, and thus has a chance to grow and ultimately blossom in the world."

Social Entrepreneurship

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, TechSoup Global founder Daniel Ben-Horin confesses to feeling "increasingly queasy about where the social enterprise concept and practice is heading." His concern, as articulated by blueEnergy founder Mathias Craig, is this:

There is no app for this. You have to get out there and do it—and you have to have the staying power to be at it long enough to have a real impact. Leading people on with the idea that there is a widget or a model or a process that will short-cut this leads to quick burnouts, ineffective allocations of funds, and ultimately less impact....

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

--The Editors

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

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