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4 posts from November 2020

Learning as compromise: a hard look at evaluation in today’s nonprofit sector

November 12, 2020

Girl-writing-at-deskThe past two decades have witnessed a shift in the nonprofit sector with respect to the practice of evaluation, from evaluation as outcome assessment toward evaluation as part of a broader goal of "learning." Perhaps by design, philanthropy has not embraced a single definition of learning, settling instead on a general understanding of learning as any activity designed to foster insights about and responsiveness to stakeholders, thereby leading to program improvement. Despite the ambiguity, the growing importance of the learning paradigm is hard to ignore; from how advisory firms describe their services to revised staff titles, it is clear that evaluators have expanded their understanding of their work beyond the measurement of goal-attainment.

Practitioners like us celebrate the learning paradigm for extending our scope of concern beyond narrow performance metrics and for encouraging ongoing reflection about practice. But while we tend to agree that these are important benefits, we also favor a more critical framing based on years of dissertation research on consulting and the development of evaluation in the nonprofit sector. In our view, evaluators have pivoted to learning not only because it adds value for clients, but also because economic and historical factors have made it professionally advantageous to position evaluation as something more than the measurement of outcomes. Specifically, we highlight two trends: 1) the transformation of evaluation into a routine management function; and 2) the persistent shortage of funding for evaluation. Because of these trends, learning for evaluators themselves is often a compromise between facilitating data-driven insights for clients and managing the considerable barriers to rigorous evaluation of complex social interventions.

Contextualizing the rise of learning

The history of the evaluation profession is fairly well chronicled. The field began as applied social science aimed at assessing the outcomes of large-scale and replicable social interventions. Evaluators focused on the effectiveness of methods and protocols rather than the effectiveness of specific organizations implementing those methods and protocols. Notions of accountability began to change toward the end of the twentieth century with the rise in the social sector of business-oriented performance criteria, leading to more evaluative focus on individual organizations as drivers of social outcomes. Funders began to incorporate evaluation requirements directly into contract terms and grant guidelines, demanding evidence of impact directly from service providers.

As evaluation moved from episodic and large-scale research projects to more routine performance measurement, the demand for evaluation services grew dramatically. This demand fueled a burgeoning and heterogeneous social impact evaluation profession consisting of both in-house evaluation staff and consultants. Many of these professionals conceptualize evaluation quite differently from the traditional social scientific rendering, and some lack the training for comprehensive outcome evaluation. As a result, evaluation has become less about uncovering evidence of causal links between interventions and outcomes and more about giving an organization a scorecard with which to monitor its operations and bolster its case for funding.

Insufficient financial support for rigorous outcome analyses has further fragmented approaches to evaluation. While funders want nonprofits to evaluate outcomes, they commonly fail to provide adequate funds to do such work with conventional rigor. The Center for Effective Philanthropy calls this the paradox of performance assessment, a substantial mismatch between expectations and resourcing for evaluation. Even routine data collection on service volume and client satisfaction can be time-consuming and costly, while the trappings of more comprehensive evaluation designs — psychometrically validated scales, long-term follow-up, the construction of a control group — are out of reach for the vast majority of nonprofits.

Pivoting to learning

In the context of capacity and funding limitations, learning serves as a more flexible form of evaluation practice than traditional outcome evaluation, in that it addresses clients' needs and funders' expectations while remaining feasible within existing constraints. Consider, for example, a hypothetical effort to evaluate a new high school curriculum. A conventional outcomes-focused evaluation might aim to determine whether the curriculum improves academic achievement, while a learning-oriented evaluation would be open to a wider set of practical questions: Did the school have sufficient resources to implement all of the lessons? Did teachers find the curriculum responsive to student needs and abilities? How did students rate the relevance and value of the course material?

While all these considerations are important, pinning down whether and to what extent a curriculum yields academic gains is especially difficult for evaluators without enough funding, time, or (in some cases) training for thorough sampling, extensive statistical analysis, and rigorous causal inference. By comparison, answering learning-oriented questions makes for a more feasible scope of work. Accordingly, evaluation consultants frequently suggest more economical and open-ended methods of impact analysis — collecting stakeholder feedback data, developing theories of change, emphasizing program fidelity assessments — to fit within their core competencies and tight budgets.

Beyond representing an evolution in evaluation practice, then, the spread of a learning paradigm in the nonprofit evaluation world is a reflection of systemically insufficient funding and capacity to conduct extensive and rigorous outcome evaluation. It is, in part, a compromise that smart and dedicated professionals have struck in order to promote data-driven decision-making while managing significant constraints.

Taking stock of learning

The learning paradigm in the nonprofit sector has prompted important conversations and innovations in the evaluation field. It has caused funders and service providers alike to think about effectiveness more broadly and holistically, and to embed reflection in daily practice. It has also challenged evaluators to reflect on the merits of different kinds of questions, evidence, and methodologies.

At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the need for robust outcome analysis. Testing programs for positive outcomes remains indispensable to building best practices, advancing good policy, and improving public well-being. Learning works best when it book-ends and informs outcome analysis, ensuring that the results of evaluation are used, not just cataloged. The broader questions prompted by the learning paradigm should be complements to, not substitutes for, a sector-wide commitment to thorough and rigorous outcome evaluation.

Maoz_Brown_Leah Reisma_philantopicMaoz (Michael) Brown completed a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 2019 with research on the history of social welfare policy in the United States. He regularly provides research-and-evaluation consulting services to funders, social enterprises, and advisory firms.

Leah Reisman received a PhD in sociology from Princeton University in 2020 with research focused on strategy consulting in the nonprofit sector and cultural philanthropy in the United States and Mexico. She works in immigrant serving organizations and as a research consultant to foundations and nonprofits.

The next crisis: nonprofit leadership exodus

November 10, 2020

Let's get realNonprofit leaders are exhausted. Indeed, many were planning to leave their jobs even before 2020 happened. They include white boomers looking to retire, young leaders of color trying to navigate cultures not ready to accept them in positions of power, and the many in between ready to cry uncle because of the neverending uphill climb they face.

These are the people on the front lines of your mission, people whom philanthropy and society need. So, in addition to providing emergency COVID funding and supporting longer-term recovery efforts, you need to be thinking about what you can do to support the people leading this work so that they rise, stay, and thrive. Here are five ways — none of which involves money — taken from my new book Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change and What They Can Do to Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020).

1. Lead with an abundance mindset. The philanthropy sector generally leads with a scarcity mentality that hinders talent, stalls creativity, and hijacks opportunities to create systemic change. And it seeps into just about every aspect of philanthropic giving. A scarcity mentality leads to reports like the Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, which found a majority of responding organizations experiencing a rising demand for services, struggling to offer competitive pay to their employees, and citing "financial stability" as a "top challenge." With that kind of climate prevailing in 2018, how can we expect nonprofits to deal with the challenges dished out by 2020? Instead of expecting everyone to get by on a shoestring, nonprofits need funders who lead from a mindset of abundance. And that means focusing on relationships, talent, technology, capacity, and operations. It means offering unrestricted, multiyear funding. It means understanding that it's not just about spending money. Funders need to think big and foster cultures of generosity and mutual support.

2. Embrace inclusion. Solving entrenched social problems requires that we come together to identify common goals, include voices and solutions from and across a broad spectrum of perspectives, and do it with an abundance of empathy, trust, and tolerance. But we won't succeed if leaders of color feel underfunded, underrepresented, and undervalued. Carly Hare is the executive director of CHANGE Philanthropy, a coalition of philanthropic networks that challenges philanthropy to embrace and advance equity, support all communities, and ignite positive social change. As she says, "We need to remember that we are all entering conversations about inequities from different places on our life journeys. We need to allow people the grace to be themselves, be vulnerable, feel discomfort, and heal so that together we can have courageous conversations. If we don't do that, we stay in a delusional state. We stay ignorant." And effective and diverse leaders will continue to leave.

3. Build trusting relationships. As human beings, we rely on trust to guide us in new relationships and help us see things through when the going gets tough. That mutual willingness to see things through is both the reason to establish trust and the reward for doing so. But before you get there, you'll need to do what you can to eliminate the pernicious influence of unequal power dynamics. Even if you aren't aware of their existence, you can bet your grantees are. Donors get to choose which causes they support, whom they fund, and what they expect to happen as those funds are spent. Getting beyond those dynamics takes time and a willingness to be open, vulnerable, and willing to admit mistakes. There's a kind of intimacy that comes from admitting weaknesses or failures to others, and a type of honesty that emerges when funders and grantees explore those weaknesses and failures in ways that allow them to learn and change together. Establishing more effective partnerships with grantees also will put you in an excellent position to tackle another insidious and far too common power dynamic: abusive board members. An article by Joan Garry published last year in the Chronicle of Philanthropy details how this dynamic harms people and the nonprofit sector more broadly.

4. Invest in talent and racial equity at the same time. A donor once told me she would not allow grant dollars to pay for her grantees' personnel costs. You read that right. She was willing to fund programs, but not the employees who run the programs. She would fund a tutoring program, but would not provide funding to pay for tutors. She would support policy advocacy, but her grant dollars could not be spent on the advocates working to advance policy. She's not alone. Only about 1 percent of foundation dollars are allocated to nonprofit talent and leadership development. That puts way too much pressure on executive directors and leaves up-and-coming leaders in the organization unsupported. Equally important (and related) is the need to invest in the recruitment and advancement of people of color at every level. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you do that, including Fund the People's Talent Justice Report and Toolkit.

5. Leverage untapped resources. Start by checking out the Billionaire Census 2020 released by Wealth-X earlier this year. The report reveals that just over 10 percent of the world’s billionaires have donated or pledged support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That leaves about 90 percent that haven't! What if many of those billionaires want to do something but haven't been contacted by an organization with a clear call to action? Who better than well-connected philanthropies to effectively tap this group or their financial advisors? Sure, their net worth undoubtedly took a hit earlier in the year, but most of them have seen it recover, and, if nothing else, 2020 has given them a much clearer sense of their privilege and the many problems crying out for solutions.

Unfortunately, just when we need effective leadership the most, the exodus of nonprofit leaders is likely to accelerate. As NFF’s Bugg-Levine told the Wall Street Journal in the spring, "the system sets them up to be fragile." With over half of nonprofits not having more than three months of cash reserves on hand, Bugg-Levine fears that many aren't going to make it. That shouldn't come as a surprise. COVID-19 has made nonprofits' normal uphill climb that much steeper. But the solutions to the impending crisis are right in front of us. The pandemic has laid bare deep, systemic wrongs, as well as how things can be made right — including putting marginalized people and social justice at the center of everything we do. It is time to acknowledge the unequal power dynamics in our sector and change our cultures to address them. We must disrupt longstanding patterns and habits of scarcity. By changing, in fundamental ways, how the philanthropic sector operates, we can ensure that nonprofits don't just limp along in a state of near-failure, bleeding leaders as they go. By acting forcefully to address this crisis, we can position a new generation of leaders and the many critical organizations they lead to succeed and thrive.

Headshot_Kris_Putnam-WalkerlyKris Putnam-Walkerly is a a sought-after philanthropy advisor and award-winning author. This article is reprinted here with permission and appears on the Putnam Consulting blog

A conversation with Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

November 04, 2020

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination — and likely confirmation — of Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the court have intensified the debate over women's reproductive rights, while the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and nationwide protests against systemic racism have highlighted the challenges faced by girls and women of color.

Teresa C. Younger has served as president and CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women since 2014 and before that was executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut — the first African American and the first woman to hold that position.

PND spoke recently with Younger about the underfunding of organizations focused on women and girls of color, the impact of COVID-19 and the reenergized racial justice movement on funding for women and girls, and the outlook for women's reproductive rights and equality.

Teresa C. YoungerPhilanthropy News Digest: Before she was named to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the founding director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and an inspiration to gender equality advocates everywhere. What did Justice Ginsburg mean to you, a woman and fellow ACLU alumna, and to an organization like the Ms. Foundation? And what do you think her legacy will be?

Teresa C. Younger: Justice Ginsburg's legacy was being a progressive woman who dedicated her life to making sure the voices of the unheard were heard. She fought every day for equality for all. This fight continues beyond her lifetime.

Justice Ginsburg's work spanned decades. When I started at the ACLU thirty years after her time with the Women's Rights Project, it wasn't surprising that her impact was still felt in that space. And it was an honor to work in a place that had spawned strategic activism for so many. For me, the ACLU fostered a deep understanding of the importance of grassroots organizing, litigation strategy, public education, and legislation on a state and national level.

Her legacy also lies in her dying wish for the American people to have a say in who fills her seat on the court. At a time when millions of people have already cast their ballots, the GOP is rushing a candidate through an illegitimate hearing process in a desperate attempt to hold on to their power. They are doing all they can to erase the powerful legacy of a powerful woman. A legacy that we will carry forward in the fight for racial and gender equity for all.

PND: In August, the Ms. Foundation received a $3 million grant from Twitter and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey's #startsmall LLC in support of women and girls of color-led organizations impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on those in the South. Why are organizations in the South especially vulnerable, and how will those funds be allocated?

TCY: Even before the communities we serve were affected by COVID-19, the Ms. Foundation worked to fund and support capacity building for women-of-color leaders and their organizations. We've developed and implemented strategies that will help mitigate the mounting impacts of the global pandemic on the most underresourced regions of the country, specifically the South.

In our recent report, Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less, we found the total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is just $5.48 a year for each woman or girl of color in the United States. And this meager funding is not distributed evenly, with the South receiving only $2.36 in philanthropic funding per woman or girl of color, the least of any region in the U.S. Given such inadequate investment and the obstacles women and girls have faced in 2020, we see it as our job to safeguard the survival of organizations that build the power of women and girls, specifically women and girls of color, and to make sure women and girls of color receive the resources they need to lead and uplift their communities.

PND: What kind of impact do you think COVID-19 is going to have on the foundation's work over the next year or three? Do you think those changes are temporary or more likely to be permanent?

TCY: To be clear, COVID-19 is not solely responsible for the crises we face today. Instead, it has exposed and heightened systemic inequalities across the United States. Preexisting health, economic, and social disparities have been laid bare as people of color are infected and die at higher rates than other groups, suffer from higher unemployment rates and a corresponding lack of health care, and struggle to secure access to safe and socially distanced housing.

Grassroots leaders and our grantee-partners were already working to address these issues pre-pandemic. COVID-19 hasn't changed the work, but it has increased the urgency behind it. And the longer our political leaders fail to take action to protect the health and safety of struggling Americans, the more this is likely to become the new normal. Given that uncertainty, the leadership of grassroots women of color-led organizations is needed more than ever. The lived experiences and expertise of those most impacted by health and economic disparities is absolutely critical in developing and implementing solutions that best serve our communities.

PND: According to Pocket Change, just 0.5 percent of total foundation grantmaking in 2017 was designated to benefit women and girls of color. In the wake of George Floyd's death and the renewed attention on the long history of racial injustice in the U.S., do you expect we’ll see a meaningful increase in funding for women and girls of color?

TCY: Even as many people are experiencing a social justice awakening, it is imperative that actions go beyond lip service and social media posts. This is a movement and not a moment, and it is critical that we see an increase in funding, especially for women and girls of color. Pocket Change was a call to action; by highlighting the major discrepancies in philanthropic giving, we are calling on everyone, not just philanthropy, to invest in women and girls of color.

Women and girls of color have been on the frontlines of every major social movement in our history, and they are still leading today. This is why I joined the powerful leaders of Black Girl Freedom Fund and was a co-founder of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. When we show up for women and girls of color, we are making the country better and stronger for everyone.

PND: "Intersectionality" has become something of a buzzword in the social sector. Do you think we'll see a shift toward more funding in support of such strategies over the next couple of years?

TCY: In the words of Audre Lorde, there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. As we explained in the Pocket Change report, women of color-led organizations work on multiple issues within multiple movements. As philanthropists, it's on us to understand that organizations employ various strategies to address various systems of oppression. We must trust and understand that the women on the ground doing this work every day know the best way to fight for their communities.

Real progress is realized when it uplifts all communities that exist on the margins. The Ms. Foundation's efforts are actively and intentionally interconnected as it strives to create a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age.

PND: You're a member of the Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, which helped select the ten African American-led racial justice organizations that received multiyear commitments from the collaborative. Can you tell us a little about the criteria and the selection process involved?

TCY: It was an honor to be part of Democracy Frontlines Fund's Brain Trust, especially in this moment. Together, members of the group are working to push philanthropy to make multiyear commitments and help stabilize grassroots organizations led by people of color at a time when the stability of such groups is in jeopardy.

With the aim of disrupting traditional philanthropy, we identified and vetted ten exemplary Black-led organizations to receive funding. The cohort includes groups committed to building sustainable local power, reimagining safety, amplifying the voices of disenfranchised voters, and prioritizing Black, LGBTQI+, youth, disabled, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated leadership. The DFF slate illustrates that change happens at the speed of trust, and no organization can effectively tackle our society’s problems without including those disproportionately affected by those problems.

PND: In 2018, the Ms. Foundation announced a five-year strategic plan focused on supporting women and girls of color as a means to promote gender equity and advance democracy. The plan called for the creation of a 501(c)(4) fund in support of local grassroots efforts to elect women and advance legislation and policies. Where does that effort stand?

TCY: We created the Ms. Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) that funds grassroots activism in marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities. At a time when our rights and lives are on the line, we are excited about the potential of supporting women candidates across the country who can have an impact at the local, state, and national levels. We'll be kicking off and intensifying our state-level actions in 2021.

PND: The 2020 Social Progress Index from the Social Progress Imperative has the U.S. as one of just three countries whose overall social progress score has worsened since 2011, with relatively low rankings in the areas of women's property rights (fifty-seventh among a hundred and sixty-three countries), early marriage (fiftieth), and equality of political power by socioeconomic position (eighty-fourth), social group (forty-ninth), and gender (forty-fifth). A century after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, what would you tell people who fear that progress toward achieving equal rights and opportunity for women has stalled?

TCY: Let that fear drive you rather than derail you. Let your frustration be your fuel in the fight for equity for all.

When you see injustice, take that moment to consider who you are fighting for and question whether your feminism goes beyond your lived experience. True equality is about making sure everyone has a seat at the table and is listened to when they speak. It's about making sure we all have the same rights, not just on paper, but in practice. It is about making sure we have autonomy over our bodies, the lives we lead, and the opportunities we are afforded. It is about making sure we all have the right to live with dignity. True equality requires vigilance, resilience, empathy and support. It depends on our collective power, because when we take action together, we achieve more than any one person could ever achieve alone.

Kyoko Uchida

Planning for the coming economic recovery by building careers

November 02, 2020

Career-DevelopmentAs communities across the nation continue to deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19, leaders are looking at immediate ways to keep families afloat, from extended unemployment benefits to stopping evictions. That's the right thing to do, for the individuals most affected by this crisis, and the economy.

But while we're doing that, we also need to be looking ahead.

How are we preparing people to not only ease back into work but hit the ground running with new skills that will land them better opportunities when the economy opens back up?

For long-term equitable economic recovery, we need more entry-level job training — and we need that even before those jobs are ready to be filled. We need to create opportunities for people with low incomes and people of color to access living-wage jobs in industries where career growth is possible.

In August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, while the unemployment rate for Black Americans was 13 percent. Nearly 40 percent of Black Americans work in jobs that put them at higher risk of being laid off, furloughed, or having their hours reduced — five points higher than their white counterparts, according to McKinsey.

Now is the time to advance an approach to workforce training that integrates employers with communities — and isn't contingent on job seekers having a college degree — enabling unemployed individuals to get back to work quickly, and in jobs with a future. It's already happening; we just need to expand those programs.

In cities across the country, nonprofits and businesses have joined together to conduct entry-level workforce trainings through initiatives like CareerWork$ that help graduates, communities, and employers succeed.

Created by the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, the national training program connects young adults from underserved communities with employers in banking and health care. For more than ten years, CareerWork$ has been providing placement assistance and ongoing coaching to give young adults the support they need for not only getting the job, but advancing in a career. CareerWork$ operates in thirteen cities across the country, forging alliances between local workforce development organizations, banks, and other financial institutions, as well as hospitals and healthcare partners.

Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. (OIC), a local workforce development organization with deep experience in civil rights, administers BankWork$, a program within the CareerWork$ initiative, for individuals looking to pursue a career in the banking industry. It is one of many entry-level programs OIC provides to help people secure the jobs of today and tomorrow while promoting inclusive hiring within local communities.

The BankWork$ model involves employers right from the start. Employers who financially support the program are invited to present to students at the trainings and commit to attending hiring fairs at graduation. The model has built enduring neighborhood relationships that are good for communities and for employers working in those communities, especially communities of color.

The results are impressive. In Philadelphia, BankWork$ has an 81 percent graduation rate, a 74 percent placement rate, and has graduated more than a hundred and fifty young people since 2017. In cities like Seattle, BankWork$ graduates see an average wage increases of 134 percent in their first three years of work.

BankWork$ graduates are now working at over eighty banks across the country, including local branches operated by Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Univest, Key Bank, Citizens Bank, Santander Bank, and Fulton Bank. BankWork$ founding partners include Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

There was a time when "on-ramp" job programs like these received significant federal funding. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) enacted by Congress in the 1970s — and modeled on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration — funded programs that provided entry-level training, but that kind of funding is increasingly scarce these days, and most federal funding in support of jobs programs is directed to apprenticeships and credentialed training.

The public, private, and nonprofit sectors need to do more to prepare the country for a post-pandemic recovery. It is imperative that foundations, corporations, and local governments step up to expand entry-level training models now, especially in communities where young adults lack access to career-building opportunities and where employers have positions waiting to be filled.

Imagine the impact if these kinds of training models were expanded across the country and we tripled, quadrupled, or even increased tenfold the number of people who graduate from such programs?

Everyone, not just the connected and privileged few, deserves an opportunity to be trained for a job with real career potential. Working together, we can provide such training. Our economy will be stronger on the other side of COVID, and we will all be the better for it.

Headshot_sherry_cromett_Renée Cardwell Hughes_philantopic Sherry Cromett joined the Biller Family Foundation in 2018 in the role of president of CareerWork$. Based in Seattle, she currently oversees the operation and expansion of the two CareerWork$ training programs, BankWork$ and CareerWork$ Medical, in thirteen markets across the country.

Renée Cardwell Hughes has extensive executive experience in the areas of strategy, leadership development, and change management. Prior to joining Philadelphia OIC as president and CEO, she was CEO of the Hughes Group, where she led a team of business advisors who helped employees, management, and boards internalize, own, and execute on their mission and values by revitalizing their corporate cultures.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


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

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