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Weekend Link Roundup (December 14-15, 2013)

December 15, 2013

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


Good profile on Tech Crunch of Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, the "Nate Silver of education." Like "Silver's influential and statistically nuanced election forecast blog posts, Baker has gained notoriety for reexamining data to trounce his adversary's conclusions," writes Gregory Ferenstein. "And, with Silver's new independent 538 channel, Baker's brand of statistics-heavy argument could be the future of education journalism."


In a provocative post in Salon, liberal stalwart and former Clinton administration official Robert Reich notes that "a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America's wealthy are for donations to culture palaces -- operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters" -- and "elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend" and as such are "investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well."

Was the second annual #GivingTuesday event a success? Notwithstanding the positive headlines and torrent of tweets leading up to and during the day itself, there isn't "a single shred of hard evidence [to suggest] that #GivingTuesday is good for the entire nonprofit sector," writes ML Innovations president Michael J. Rosen. Before Rosen is ready to deem the event a success, he'd like to see answers to such tough questions as: How many new donors did #GivingTuesday participants v. other nonprofits acquire in 2013? Among 2012 #GivingTuesday nonprofit participants v. other nonprofits, what is the retention rate of donors who gave on that date? And is #GivingTuesday simply changing when people give (i.e., on that Tuesday instead of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or another day)?

Humanitarian/International Aid/Assistance

On the Arabella Advisors blog, Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, CEO of Vestergaard, a global company dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable people, argues that funders, investors, and industry working in the humanitarian entrepreneurship space can do three things to create greater impact: fund innovative campaigns that deliver the highest return on investment; promote innovation; and invest in programs that have a built-in mechanism to demonstrate and reward measurable impact.


Rehana Nathoo, a program associate at the Rockefeller Foundation, shares highlights from a recently released foundation-sponsored e-guide for early-stage impact investors.


Nice two-pager from the National Council of Nonprofits on trends to watch in 2014. They include: the resource squeeze; the spiral of need; increased scrutiny; transparency around outcomes; and the leadership challenge.

"To truly begin to use money as a tool, nonprofit leaders have to stop regretting their need of it and start demanding that they receive enough and the right kinds of [it] to successfully accomplish their work," writes Nell Edgington on her Social Velocity blog. Yes, it's hard, she adds, but here's how to get started:

  • Ask for money to create change, not for organizational needs.
  • Find the "right" donors.
  • Tie the "ask" to your goals.
  • Eliminate the middle man (or event)
  • Share your results.

On LinkedIn, social sector "provocateur" Ben Mangan argues that if nonprofits hope to create "breakthrough change," they must embrace a new way of doing work that is defined and anchored by "Lean" principles.


'Tis the season for giving, and American Public Media's syndicated "Marketplace" show gets into the spirit of things with a wide-ranging series on big-dollar philanthropy. Individual episodes, which vary in length from a couple of minutes to almost ten, include a look at the roots -- and some results -- of the charitable tax deduction; philanthropy's edge: innovation and a long-time horizon (feat. Bridgespan's Tom Tierney, Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, and Stanford's Robe Reich); Peter and Jennifer Buffett questioning aspects of the "philanthropy business"; and the realities -- and pitfalls -- of giving money away (feat. Diana Barrett).

"Institutional philanthropy operates in a bubble," writes Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, in a post on the Huffington Post Impact blog. "Foundations lack feedback loops and accountability mechanisms that are built into other sectors of society.

Most don't really know if they could be doing their work better or how: they don't hear constructive criticisms from their peers, their nonprofit grantees or members of the communities that benefit from philanthropic giving. Some gather data and have a strong commitment to organizational learning, but important pieces of information remain tightly guarded and unshared.

Pathways for change are determined behind closed doors, messages are formulated and spread through whisper chambers and the very voices that could make a difference by providing feedback are boxed out of the process entirely.

The culture of deference, which often masks outright fear, is not healthy for the sector. The cumulative effect of each individual foundation operating this way is that philanthropy as a sector is not as impactful as it could be....

In an effort to burst the bubble in which organized philanthropy has operated for too long, Dorfman writes, NCRP, in partnership with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, earlier this week relased an assessment of WRF's grantmaking. It's an ambitious, interesting report, and, like Dorfman, we commend the board and staff of WRF for taking the bold step to publish it.

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen, another unabashed critic of institutional philanthropy, argues, contra Gordon and Betty More Foundation president Steve McCormick, that foundations and philanthropists shouldn't "take the lead in seizing the important opportunities and addressing the biggest and most complex issues we face across the globe." "Notwithstanding McCormick's advice," writes Cohen,

ours is to be very careful about finding yourself operating ahead of the nonprofit activists doing the hard work on the ground and to be modest in your belief that the market, with an updated, entrepreneurial twist, leads to better, long-term solutions than more collectivized, community-based solutions....

And Paul Brest, former president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, offers some thoughts on a new CEP report that captures foundation CEOs’ perceptions/assessment of the effectiveness of institutional philanthropy, and their individual foundations, with respect to the big challenges of our time. "If self-awareness is necessary for self-improvement," Brest writes, "the CEP report reveals a glass half empty and half full."

And that sort of captures our mood as we head into the homestretch of 2013. What have you been reading/watching/listenng to? Drop us a line at [email protected] or via the comments box below and we'll add it to the above....

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