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Weekend Link Roundup (April 12-13, 2014)

April 13, 2014

Illustration_cherry_treeOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Writing in The Week, journalist Matt Bruenig takes a closer look at the one part of the charity versus social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Daniel Stid considers the implications of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission for the foundation's developing plans for grantmaking in the democracy area.

Data

"Big Data is suddenly everywhere," write New York University professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis in the New York Times. "But precisely because of its newfound popularity and growing use, we need to be levelheaded about what [it] can — and can't — do." Before we embrace big data as the answer to all our problems, they add, keep in mind that big data:

  • is very good at detecting correlations but never tells us which correlations are meaningful;
  • often works well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement;
  • can be gamed;
  • often generates results that are less robust under further scrutiny than initially thought;
  • is subject to what might be called the "echo-chamber effect";
  • can amplify errors of correlation;
  • is prone to giving scientific-sounding solutions to hopelessly imprecise questions; and
  • excels when applied to things that are common but often falls short when applied to things that are less common.

Environment

As part of Goldman Sachs' Focus On series, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, makes the business case for investing in nature (video; running time: 3:08).

Ever since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the the summary of its new report on climate impacts a few weeks ago, the word "transform" has been flying around in climate circles, writes Megan Rowling on the Thomson Reuters Foundation site. And if you listen closely to those conversations, adds Rowling, "the message is clear: the world has not yet changed radically enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, nor even to protect itself from the more extreme weather, gradual climate shifts and sea-level rise that are already hitting us. Instead we"ve been fiddling with adaptation while the planet burns."

Nonprofits

Using the results of the Nonprofit Finance Fund's sixth annual State of the Nonprofit Sector survey, Nell Edgington looks at the financial sustainability crisis in the nonprofit sector and argues that it stems "in large part from a lack of understanding among funders of the true costs of social change work."

Philanthropy

A nice new infographic from the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that volunteering continues to be an important part of the American identity.

Harold Simon, executive director, and Miriam Axel-Lute, associate director/editor ofShelterforce, the journal of affordable housing and community building, chat with Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, about the "important institutional conversations" taking place at Ford about how the foundation does its work and the extent to which it is "prepared to be disruptive in [its] own internal structures and practice to actually work in a way that reinforces the way work actually happens on the ground."

Ruminating on a recent article by Demos senior fellow Michael Edwards that examined the role of money in social change work, NPQ's Rick Cohen shares a not altogether flattering assessment of NGOs and their funders. "Admirable for his social justice ideals, Edwards' ideas go against the flow of today's NGOs and funders," writes Cohen.

Despite their rhetoric of social justice, they are devoted to business principles embedded in a structure of 'social enterprise.' Funders are increasingly top-down despite their language of bottom-up, increasingly refusing unsolicited proposals, and increasingly functioning like operating rather than grantmaking foundations. The experiments promoted by the nation's top foundations, like social impact bonds, increasingly aim to generate wealth for private investors (such as Goldman Sachs) at the expense of resources generated and paid by government. The idea of shared decision-making may be espoused by some grantmakers, but it is an anomaly in foundation practice, especially among those new foundations whose tiny boards of family members reflect the lack of democracy in modern philanthropy....

Women

And on the Glasspockets blog, Yinebon Iniya, manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center, reports on a recent roundtable discussion organized by Data 2X, a partnership between the United Nations Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that aims "to advance gender equality and women's empowerment and further global economic and social gains through improved data collection and analysis...."

That's it for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org or via the comments box below....

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