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Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

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

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.


Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."


In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.


Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.


In the third in a series of related posts on the Markets for Good blog, David Henderson argues that "the proliferation of open data and continued evolution of social sector technologies has the opportunity to democratize evaluation" and, in the process, "lower the cost and increase the frequency with which we can assess whether our interventions are achieving their intended impacts."

"There should be no doubt that we need to evaluate grants," William Keator, vice president for programs at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, argues on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. At the same time, "as we acquire increasing knowledge of ways that grants can be monitored and measured, we would be wise to step back and evaluate the impact of our heightened evaluation efforts." In the final analysis, Keator writes,

[w]isdom allows philanthropy to have courage in [its] conviction[s] – to resist temptation and trust in the decision process. Wisdom also engenders a very careful, balanced approach in expectations for and reactions to short-term outcomes. Finally, wisdom teaches a broader lesson that finding good people, funding them and giving them time to do what they do best trumps near-term noise....

In another post on the Markets for Good blog, Bin Pei, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looks at how the rapid adoption of the Internet and social media has empowered individuals in China "to lead and influence society in a very positive way" and argues that it is for time for the Chinese government "to prioritize its legislation and policymaking for the sector."

On Friday, David Callahan (see Civil Society above) called out a "flimsy" Wall Street Journal op-ed by James Pierson, president of the William Simon Foundation and vice chairman of the Philanthropy Roundtable, that was highly critical of the activist liberalism of mainstream foundations. "Piereson is entirely right in pointing out that many of the big foundations have pushed an ideological agenda for decades," writes Callahan.

It's always seemed silly to me — or worse, self-defeating — when these funders won't own up to their true values.

Strangely, though, Piereson fails to mention that an array of conservative funders have been battling with equal fervor (albeit smaller endowments) to push an ideological agenda of their own. Among them is the William Simon Foundation and an array of other funders that hang around the Philanthropy Roundtable....

Public Policy

"Social impact bonds must be a heady experience for a Congress that cannot bring itself to do much of anything in a bipartisan manner," writes Rick Cohen in the latest installment of his weekly Cohen Report. But "[g]etting legislation passed and seeing SIBs come to fruition and success are much more difficult," Cohen adds. "The problem, as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits' Jon Pratt told Nicole Wallace of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is that SIBs have 'been overpromoted and oversold….We have yet to have a single transaction completed, and yet multiple states and multiple agencies are jumping ahead'."

Social Good

Is the much-ballyhooed "sharing" economy a Trojan horse? Writing on openDemocracy's Transformation blog, Max Holleran, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at New York University, argues that it is -- and more.

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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