559 posts categorized "Nonprofits"

Career transitions during a pandemic: things to consider

December 04, 2020

Career_woman_mask_laptop_home_GettyImagesAs an executive recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I can definitely say that along with everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on recruiting and hiring. When the pandemic was first declared in March and April, we saw an immediate slowdown in hiring. Clients paused active searches to focus on supporting their current teams through the transition to remote work, and many candidates were so focused on staying safe and navigating the challenges of remote work and home schooling that they were unable to even think about making a career change.

That changed a bit over the summer. Our nonprofit clients resumed hiring at a rapid clip and candidates became more willing to consider new opportunities. But thinking about making a career change during a pandemic can be complicated. Candidates often need to explore their personal tolerance for risk, want to think about what it would be like to start a new job virtually, and/or worry about whether they can manage kids who are schooling from home while diving into a new professional challenge. All these are legitimate concerns that can only be answered by the individual looking to make a move.

Below are five things to consider if you're contemplating making a career move right now.

Take time to reflect on what's driving your interest in a change. Is your interest in making a move about advancing your career? Aligning your work life more closely with your values? Are you feeling stagnant in your current position? Could that have something to do with you feeling stuck in your personal life because of COVID-related restrictions? Being clear from the outset about your motivation can help you stay focused on what you really want and drive your decision-making throughout the job search process.

Focus on technology as you begin to interview. Learn what you can about what a future employer is doing to create a productive virtual workplace experience for its employees. What platforms is it using for communications and collaboration? How does the organization's IT staff support employees working virtually? Does it offer any support to employees looking to set up a home office? Understanding how an organization has adapted to the pandemic can provide insight into how adaptable the organization's culture is (or isn't).

Be sure to ask about the onboarding and transition process. Many candidates — as well as hiring managers — treat onboarding and the transition to a new job as an afterthought in the search process. But onboarding someone into a new role when s/he can't come into the office can be challenging in all kinds of unexpected ways. Ask about how the organization has onboarded other new employees during the pandemic. What worked and what didn't? What will the organization do to help set you up for success as a new employee?

Be explicit about your needs, particularly when it comes to balancing work and family. Right now,most of us are stretched more than ever. Whether it's caring for an older parent, helping our kids homeschool, or just figuring out how to manage having multiple family members working and learning from home, these are challenging times. As you consider transitioning into a new role, be clear with yourself — and your potential manager — about what you need in order to be successful. This could be flexible scheduling, a specific piece of equipment or technology, or, if you're relocating, help with finding accommodations. Be prepared to talk about your requirements in a straightforward and transparent manner.

Try to be flexible and nimble. As you think about the next phase of your career, you may find that the number of and/or rate at which opportunities present themselves feels different than it has in the past. Here at Koya Partners, we've seen that some searches are moving more slowly than they might have a year or two ago, while others are advancing faster than they might have pre-pandemic. Try to remain open and responsive to opportunities and understand that the amount of time an organization needs to conduct and close a search will differ from organization to organization.

Recognize that due diligence is more important than ever. Not being able to actually visit the office where you may end up working definitely makes it more challenging to get a feel for an organization and assess its culture, so think about other things you can do to learn about the organization. Take advantage of your networks to connect with current or former employees, read everything you can find about the organization online, and go through every page of its website. It's also critical that you ask questions and get information about the organization's financial health as it relates to the pandemic. Nonprofits that traditionally have relied on events for revenue, for example, may need to pivot quickly to other sources of revenue, or face an uncertain future.

Indeed, if we've learned anything over the ten months, it's that uncertainty is the only certainty. But even with all the unknowns out there and the new ways of working and living we've adopted since the spring, opportunities to advance your career exist. You just need to know where to look for them and act.

Molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

Heckscher_homeIf there has ever been a time when we need to embrace bold solutions in education, especially to the challenges faced by the underserved, now is the time. And at this critical juncture, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and foundations should lead by doing what we do best. We need, as Michael Bloomberg wrote, to "embolden government" by investing in innovation and demonstrating what works, even if that means assuming more than a normal amount of risk.

At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we support programs and partnerships that transform specific inflection points into paths toward success. This year, we have distilled that approach into a focus on three critical areas: early childhood literacy, college access and success, and, in what has become a kind of pandemic throughline connecting kindergarten to college, remote learning.

Allow me to share some of the details:

1. Focus funding on early literacy, where learning loss is most critical. We focused on early literacy in 2020 because we know that kindergarten through second grade are among the most critical years in a child's formal education, years in which the prevention of learning loss is crucial. During a normal year, K-3 students from underserved communities lose three months of reading knowledge over the summer; COVID-19 has exacerbated those losses. Even though school is technically in session for many, look at what's happening in California. The California Department of Education recently reported an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among students in the elementary grades, with the highest increase in grades two through four and among Black and Hispanic students, reinforcing what we already knew: remote learning disproportionately hurts students of color. In New York City students who are completing an assignment or a check-in form for the day but who may not be attending classes are counted as present for full-day instruction.

To help address the problem, we are supporting multiple projects that address early literacy learning loss and are urging other funders to do the same. This fall, we developed a project that enlists Brooklyn College students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate early childhood literacy courses to serve as literacy tutors for students in the New York City public school system. Participants in the program are being trained in Reading Rescue, a one-on-one research and evidence-based intervention targeted to high-need first-grade students who are reading below grade level. The program ensures that students receive explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics using techniques determined to be most effective by experts in the field of reading science. We are also funding Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, all of which have been proven to work, and have provided a third year of funding for EarlyBird, a targeted solution to the current problematic state of dyslexia diagnosis.

We cannot allow our most vulnerable children to fall further behind in the fundamental area of literacy. With that in mind, education funders should pay special attention to proven early literacy programs, today and in the years to come.

2. Supporting teachers who do not have the skills needed to teach remotely. Remote learning does not work for poor kids, particularly poor kids in elementary school. In fact, remote instruction is far from ideal for any student, and most teachers lack the skills needed to teach remotely in an effective way. In a national survey of more than twelve hundred K-12 teachers conducted by ClassTag in March, more than half (56.7 percent) of the teachers who responded said they are "not prepared to facilitate remote learning," while a somewhat smaller percentage (42.8 percent) said they alone are responsible for deciding which remote/online tools they use. We know teachers are in need of support, yet not enough attention has been paid to helping them learn how to teach online.

Now, we have never been fans or successful funders of professional development for teachers, for any number of reasons, including difficulties in measuring its impact on student achievement, but desperate times demand desperate measures and have led us to re-examine our position and ask whether there is an opportunity here to support professional development with respect to the skills teachers need to teach online effectively. Many of these skills are basic and easily learned — how to engage students while conducting a Zoom session, how to use tools like Nearpod, how to manage breakout rooms — and all are crucial in keeping students engaged.

With our support, Doug Lemov and his team at Teach Like a Champion offered synchronous webinars for teachers and school leaders at our grantee schools and organizations. The webinars were predicated on the idea that to truly understand the content they were delivering online, educators needed to both absorb it and experience it as participants in synchronous sessions. They needed, as Lemov explained, to be “cold called,” to share short written responses with their peers, and to participate in online discussions. In short, they needed to be fully engaged in an online session for ninety minutes in order to understand how digital tools shape a learning culture. The results of the initiative have been impressive, and classes were oversubscribed as word of the value of the experience spread.

We’ve also provided funding for the Relay Graduate School of Education in support of a series of synchronous online professional development trainings for teachers, school leaders, and alumni of Teach for America. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Relay has run workshops for more than fifteen hundred school leaders and teachers across the country, including over thirty workshops delivered directly to schools and school networks.

The skills needed to teach effectively have changed over the past few months. It is incumbent on us as funders to help teachers learn the basic tech skills that allow them to do what they do best: connect with their students.

3. Increasing investments in college access and success programs — because the best leg up and out of poverty is a college degree. College access and success for underserved students is still the surest path out of poverty. This year, we focused on enabling inner-city high school students, regardless of their achievement level, to earn early college credits, even when their courses were remote. To that end, our staff came up with a way to broaden the appeal of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams by encouraging students to take courses and the exams via ModernStates.org. Underwritten by philanthropist Steve Klinsky, the site funds the production of online courses taught by college professors designed to prepare students for the exams; it also covers test fees so that students can earn up to a year of college credit without the added cost of tuition or textbooks. At a time when the cost of college is an ever-increasing burden to matriculation and persistence, we see this as an important lever to keep college-going students not just on track but ahead of the curve.

We also envisioned and funded a strategic partnership between two of the best college access and success programs for high-achieving youth Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet) — focused on building up the path from college to a career. While an impressive 90 percent of SEO Scholars earn a college degree, the organization identified a gap in its services: adequately preparing students for the transition from college to employment. Enter OppNet, which teaches career-readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students who have a similar profile to SEO Scholars. OppNet uses a train-the-trainer approach to improving student career competencies and outcomes, and the partnership ultimately enables both programs to better and more broadly serve underserved kids.

Last but not least, we doubled down on our college-success initiatives: we continued our support of intensive career development and leadership training for low-income, first-generation college students via America Needs You; we underwrote the development of a software solution (by Overgrad) that provides counselors and students, in New York, with a localized approach to the college access process; and we increased support for our own transfer credit initiative, resulting in the development of Transfer Explorer, a revolutionary tool for CUNY students. This free, searchable, user-friendly database offers information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions in the CUNY system — the first time such information has been made publicly available. Thanks to the database, CUNY students can avoid the loss of credits when they transfer between schools in the system, increasing the likelihood they will graduate. 

We are all struggling to find a way out of this mess. I don’t have a clue as to when it will end or how, but I often find myself returning to that old, old saying, “this too shall pass.” While we look forward to that day, let’s embrace our obligation now, today, to take bold action that helps level the playing field for underserved youth.

Headshot_peter_sloane_heckscher_foundation_philantopicPeter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, is deeply committed to enhancing educational opportunities for young people.

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

Why regulatory modernization is essential to a nimble human services system

October 30, 2020

Food_bank_central_eastern_north_carolina_philantopicOver the last eight months, we've all watched as existing health inequities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also learned that social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, and play — put people of color and low-income Americans at greater risk of infection than others, and that those communities are more likely to be negatively impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic. The supports that normally help families meet such challenges are delivered through the collaborative efforts of America’s health and human services infrastructure, including public-sector agencies, philanthropic entities, and community-based organizations.

COVID-19 has turned everything we know about how to deliver these critical services on its head. The way people apply for help, the ways in which the human services workforce carries out essential duties, and even how clients engage in program activities are being redesigned and -imagined. As a result, public agencies and their community partners have had to accelerate the modernization of their business processes to preserve and expand access to the services that undergird an effective health and human services ecosystem.

Even as we carry out this work, however, organizations on the ground must operationalize these changes within a local, state, and federal regulatory framework that is in desperate need of remodeling. Congress and federal agencies have taken emergency actions since the pandemic hit to give more flexibility to service providers. One such agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, relaxed its payment rules so that medical practitioners can be reimbursed for the purchase of remote communications technology. While the change is temporary, it underscores the long-term need to simplify rules and regulations in ways that enable organizations to prioritize outcomes over process. There are similar opportunities across the health and human services sector.

In 2018, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association released the National Imperative Report: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, which identified overlapping, conflicting, and outdated regulations as one of the major barriers to successful service delivery. The report recommended that regulators at all levels of government commit to a fundamental review and reform of human services CBO regulation. The pandemic underscores that need.

One example of needed regulatory modernization is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Unlike block grant programs, SNAP, the largest nutrition program in the country, operates within a highly regulated framework, with detailed rules that dictate how various agencies can administer their respective programs. As the pandemic has revealed, such a framework is particularly challenging for service providers to adapt to during a crisis. From March through June, states submitted more than five hundred and sixty waiver requests across seventy-nine different waiver categories related to SNAP. Approval or denial of these waivers repeatedly came just days before, or even after, states were required to implement changes and often required further guidance, clarification, or re-issuance at a later date. The constant state of uncertainty created inefficiencies and sub-optimal outcomes in service delivery at a time when providers should have been empowered to take decisive action to maintain critical services.

The pandemic also reinforces the need to review and modernize regulations to better reflect what is currently working. Rapid scaling of remote benefit processing functions suggests that agencies can reduce their reliance on onerous interviews in the application process and still maintain the integrity of their programs. Similarly, policies that support expansion of online purchasing options can have a major impact in reducing barriers to food access for individuals and communities. There's also a need to evaluate current and proposed SNAP regulations that restrict the strategies states can use to support households facing barriers to employment and to better align the program with other systems to create pathways that lead to greater economic mobility.

The child welfare system, which often relies on in-person visits and interventions, is another system that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, it became apparent that the system could not continue to operate normally and that changes were needed to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children, staff, and families. The U.S. Children's Bureau was extremely responsive to these challenges, issuing modifications to allow monthly caseworker visits by video conference and later providing funding flexibility under existing federal law for the purchase of cell phones and equipment for birth parents and foster kids. This kind of flexibility with respect to technology has allowed those in the system to better meet the needs of the children and families they serve and to maximize the efficiency with which interventions are delivered. Given the ever-increasing role of technology in society, these changes should be made permanent.

The pandemic has underscored the need for a more flexible, nimble regulatory environment that enables state and local agencies and CBOs to creatively engage in experimentation and innovation, embrace technology, and improve outcomes for individuals and families in their communities.

The time is ripe for more permanent regulatory modernization in the health and human services space. We urge federal, state, and local policy makers to embrace such a paradigm shift, building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and providing the kind of regulatory flexibility that fosters innovation and, ultimately, leads to better outcomes for all.

Headshot_ilana_levinson_matt_lyons_philantopicIlana Levinson is a senior director for government relations for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Matt Lyons is the director of Policy and Research with the American Public Human Services Association.

Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities

October 27, 2020

Stop_AAPI_hateAs the nation grapples with its legacy of systemic racism and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poor people and communities of color, philanthropy needs to take a stronger stand for a community that too often is overlooked: the 22.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who call the United States home.

As a formerly incarcerated immigrant who is now leading a foundation, I am acutely aware of the need for increased philanthropic support targeting marginalized AAPI communities. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic dollars goes to funding AAPI causes. At a time when AAPIs are facing a new wave of discrimination and hate and, like other communities of color, are suffering disproportionately from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, that's not enough.

Why are AAPI causes so underfunded? Partly because of the false perception that Asian Americans don't face the same kinds of structural racism and discrimination as other communities of color. But a quick tour of American history reveals that AAPI communities have always had to contend with racist policies driven by anti-Asian sentiment — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the Immigration Act of 1924, to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s.

Sadly, the tradition of scapegoating and discrimination against Asian Americans has once again reared its ugly head, with people in power spreading racist characterizations of the pandemic as the "China virus" and the "Kung Flu." In July, Stop AAPI Hate — an initiative launched in March by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University reported 2,583 incidents of discrimination and harassment against Asian Americans in the three months between March 19 and August 5, 2020.

Even before COVID-19, Asian Americans were facing significant challenges. When people think of Asian Americans as a single monolithic group, they are ignoring the appreciable diversity of AAPI communities, as well as the many disparities in education, income level, health outcomes, and other measures. Pew Research reports that Asian Americans are the most economically unequal group in the country and, as a group, have seen a dramatic increase since the 1970s in the number of its members living in poverty.

We can thank popular culture for perpetuating the myth of a monolithic "Asian" community. It is often the wealthy, successful Chinese- or Japanese-American professional or whiz kid who comes to mind, not the persecuted refugee from Southeast Asia whose pending deportation is a likely death sentence, or the poverty-stricken Pacific Islander caught in the net of mass incarceration. But as long as this "model minority" myth persists and people in power continue to use it as a wedge to seed hate and division, those of us not living the stereotypical "model" life will remain invisible.

I started the New Breath Foundation in 2017 in an attempt to address the lack of funding for AAPI immigrants and refugees, with a focus on those most likely to be impacted by incarceration, the threat of deportation, and violence. As a formerly incarcerated "juvenile lifer," I wanted to stand up for marginalized AAPI populations in the same way that many people stood up for me. People like Anmol Chaddha, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who, over the span of seven years, organized campaigns to support my release from prison and then from immigration detention. There are thousands of other AAPI immigrants and refugees in detention who deserve the chance at a decent life I got as a result of Anmol's efforts.

We support grassroots AAPI organizations that don't currently have a seat at the funding table. And we have connections to and trusted relationships with smaller, less-resourced, community-grown nonprofits that provide a lifeline to people who have nowhere else to turn. For example, without financial support from the New Breath Foundation, Sok Khoeun Loeun, a single father of three who was wrongfully deported to Cambodia, might not have received the legal advocacy and grassroots support that led to his being reunited with his family in the U.S.

Foundations must fund intersectional work that builds power and voice across all Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. To effectively build equity and address the harmful disparities affecting communities of color, philanthropy must look beyond stereotypes and public misconception to see the individuals whose lives are full, complex, and valuable. When we, as donors, take the time to get to know the unique and varied challenges that Asian Americans face and, more importantly, include them in our giving, we are modeling a fuller understanding of racial justice and our commitment to a truly pluralistic, multi-ethnic America.

(Photo credit: Stop AAPI Hate)

Headshot_eddy_zheng philantopicEddy Zheng is founder and president of the New Breath Foundation.

For organizational resilience and impact, focus on business model not overhead

October 21, 2020

Conflict dynamics brainstormIt has always been a source of angst for ambitious not-for-profit organizations: how to ensure they can sustain and scale up impact while also building resilience to weather financial or other shocks. Often the focus is on increasing core or unrestricted funding and covering general operating costs through grant overhead.

The COVID-19 pandemic and national responses to it have exacerbated this challenge and, in doing so, have brought into stark relief important structural problems within the not-for-profit sector. What have been perennial issues for many not-for-profits — sustaining impact, financial resilience — are now existential ones.

In recent years, even prior to the pandemic, governments, private foundations, and other donors have openly recognized the need to cover a greater portion of not-for-profit organizations' general operating costs through grant funding. That in itself is a good thing. But I do not believe this approach, on its own, will lead to the long-term resilience of ambitious not-for-profits, nor will it enable them to effectively scale impact.

What will ensure more resilience and the ability to scale up not-for-profit organizations is the pursuit of new and creative business models that fit with their missions and activities.

In this article, I draw on my and colleagues' experiences of growing Conflict Dynamics International, a sixteen-year young not-for-profit working to prevent and resolve violent conflict and alleviate human suffering arising from conflicts.

Common not-for-profit business model

A common business model for not-for-profit organizations is that the organization secures contributions from donors to fund its charitable work. This support can be for the core operations of the organization or it can be for particular programs or projects. In either case, it can be restricted or it can be unrestricted in terms of intended use. Let's call this the Contribution-Based Business Model.

With this business model, not-for-profit organizations must fund their non-program expenses through a combination of: (i) contributions for general operating support; (ii) restricted core funding; and/or (iii) institutional overhead applied to program direct costs. [1]

In Conflict Dynamics' experience, the institutional overhead on grants from non-United States governmental sources has been in the range of 7 percent to 13 percent (see below). Many private foundations allow for institutional overhead in this range also, while a few support overhead costs at a higher level (e.g., MacArthur Foundation, up to 29 percent). In our area of practice, for organizations receiving funding from U.S. government agencies, the Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA) can cover overhead, as I understand it, up to 22 percent.

From the not-for-profit's perspective, the core value exchange through the Contribution-Based Business Model goes something like this: "We (not-for-profit) will deliver social impact; you (donor) will provide funding and other resources to support the activities towards that impact."

Challenges with this business model

In our sixteen years of working in some of the most challenging conflict situations in the world, we have learned that the Contribution-Based Business Model is not sufficient to scale the impact of our organization and ensure its resilience. Perhaps it is better suited to not-for-profit organizations working in less-volatile situations, or those that deliver predictable program services, or have reached a higher level of annual revenue.

The types of shocks we have to insulate ourselves from are generally funding shocks. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique, seismic shock. We have been able to adapt our program activities, and at the same time we have seen the funding shock from the pandemic. Conflict Dynamics is fortunate to have many wonderful supporting partners; however, even in normal times we have on occasion experienced U-turns on donor pledges, long delays in the disbursement of funds, and non-renewal of grants when the political situation changes unexpectedly (either at source or country of implementation!).

Back to the Contribution-Based Business Model, I see a number of challenges:

  1. In recent years, many governmental donors in particular have been reducing the percentage and scope of coverage of allowable institutional overhead on grants. For the types of grants we secure for our work, the following donors allow these overhead percentages: Sweden Ministry for Foreign Affairs (13 percent); Switzerland Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (10 percent to 13 percent); United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (10 percent); European Union (8 percent); Netherlands Ministry for Foreign Affairs (7 percent); etc.
  2. Many institutional donors have pulled back on the amount of general operating support and other core funding they are providing to not-for-profit organizations, preferring instead to fund projects. A colleague recently referred to this as the "projectization" of funding. This has direct tangible impacts on the ability of the organization to grow its infrastructure, as well as impacts in terms of staff retention, professional development opportunities, staff morale, and so on.
  3. When organizations are funding their core operations through heavy reliance on program-related overhead, the organization becomes vulnerable if its programs do not continue or face funding gaps. If experienced program staff and institutional memory are lost, this places additional demands on the organization.
  4. Whether for core- or program-specific funding, this business model requires the organization to proactively pursue new grants on a near continuous basis to ensure its sustainability. The transaction costs for securing a large number of smaller individual contributions are very high, and so that generally requires that the organization first reach a certain level of revenue and capacity.
  5. The fixed overhead on program grants induces dependency on this type of funding, because organizations get stuck in a Catch-22 of having to invest significant time in program fundraising, especially when scaling, which takes away from efforts to secure the resources to sustain the core of the organization.
  6. This business model makes it difficult to break through the small- to middle-size stage of growth. This is the "too small to be big, and too big to be small" range of $2 million to $8 million in annual revenue. At $3 million to $4 million average annual revenue, Conflict Dynamics is in this range. The reason for this difficulty is that economies of scale only kick in when the organization exceeds approximately $8 million to $10 million annual revenue. At $8 million in annual program revenue and 10 percent average overhead rate, the overhead amount would be $727,272 a year.
  7. Scaling impact may require upfront investments in new programs or new geographic areas. When there is high reliance on grant-related overhead, there are generally not a lot of funds available to invest in exploring new opportunities.

Ultimately this business model on its own results in constrained and unreliable funding for not-for-profit organizations. That reality, and the consequences for intended impact have been well recognized. Several institutional donors have made commitments to provide more general operating support or restricted core funding, both prior to and during the pandemic:

Much of these commitments and intended actions focus on what donors can do to help non-profits, and they also generally focus on the same business model. Some of the proposed arrangements for donors to help grantees cover overhead costs include outcome-based funding and all-in-one project pricing.[5]

Moreover, some donors are pursuing an approach based on equity philanthropy, whereby loans and investments are made to fund not-for-profit programs. This seems best suited to organizations offering program services that generate predictable revenue streams.

Conflict Dynamics' experience of donor funding flexibility during the pandemic has been mixed: in general, there has been a marked slowdown of decision-making on new funding; one private foundation partner has provided significant grant flexibility in light of the impact of COVID-19; and most governmental donors have not afforded much flexibility with their existing grants.

A constellation of business models

If the Contribution-Based Business Model is not the way to go, then what is?

I believe that for ambitious not-for-profit organizations to build their resilience and scale impact, they need to operate with a variety of business models. This means going further than the obvious strategy of diversifying sources of funding, to diversifying the actual business model itself.

Conflict Dynamics has been exploring an approach based on a "constellation" of five inter-related business models, all oriented toward realizing greater social impact.

Business model 1: Contribution-based. I am not suggesting "throwing out the baby with the bath water"; a contribution-based business model will continue to be an important model for not-for-profit organizations. But organizations need to push for more realistic overhead percentages on program funding, longer grant periods, more funding for core expenses, and so on. In its last three fiscal years, our grant revenue for programs averaged approximately 98 percent of our total revenue....so we have more work to do here.

Business model 2: Monetization. The second component of the constellation of business models focuses on monetizing something that the organization already does. This is about extracting added value from the organization's expertise, analysis, networks, and so on. For example, Conflict Dynamics has gained a lot of experience in the monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding programs and is in a position to offer monitoring and evaluation services, for a fee, to other organizations.

Business model 3: Unrelated business income. In certain circumstances, tax exempt not-for-profit organizations can generate revenue from unrelated business income. In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service has stringent criteria for what constitutes unrelated business income, which can be subject to tax.[6]  There are exemptions. One area of interest is rental income. During FY2018–19, Conflict Dynamics had total office lease expenses of $109,429, of which $26,782 was covered out of institutional overhead. With an approximate average overhead rate of 10 percent on program grants, we had to bring in roughly $294,600 in program grants just to cover this single expense. Ownership of a larger office property can reduce or eliminate rental costs and generate income through the subleasing of office space.

I realize the pandemic is not an ideal time to get into commercial real estate; looking to the future, however, there will be opportunities in certain areas and locations to provide other not-for-profits with co-working spaces.

Business model 4: Investments. The fourth business model focuses on investment income. Organizations can approach donors to make an initial short-term investment for the purposes of kick starting an endowment. With a one-year investment of $100 million and a fairly conservative return, the organization could realize revenue of, say, $7 million over twelve months. That would provide the initial funding for an endowment for the organization, which would in turn could provide roughly $490,000 of unrestricted revenue a year. For an organization with an annual  budget of $5 million, that represents nearly 10 percent of its total revenue.

This level of investment is not implausible; recently, the MacArthur Foundation adopted an approach in one of its program areas, the 100&Change initiative, where it makes a very large investment in a single organization over three years. Through the initiative, in year one, it made an award to Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee in the amount of $100 million.

Business model 5: For-profit feeder. Not-for-profit organizations can set up separate for-profit ventures with the aim of funneling the profit from the venture into the not-for-profit entity. Many large corporations have charitable foundations, and the approach here is to do the same in reverse. This assumes that the not-for-profit can design and execute a profitable business model.

This business model also affords the opportunity to seek equity investments. In addition, certain types of entities, including public benefit corporations (B Corp) in the U.S., are eligible to receive program-related investments (i.e., low-cost loans) from private foundations.

All these components should be viewed as building blocks that can be combined in different configurations, depending on the needs and capacities of the organization; they are not mutually exclusive. In other sectors, governments and foundations facilitate reduced-risk "sandboxes" to experiment with business/regulatory models. Perhaps it's time for the social sector to test these and other components in a sandbox environment designed for its own unique needs.

Where does this leave us?

When I visited the Palais des Nations — the seat of the United Nations Office in Geneva — in late 2019, I was surprised to see the direct effects of the cash-flow crisis that the UN has been battling. To cite just one small example, some elevator banks were intentionally closed to save money, and some meeting rooms were out of use. The lesson is that when it comes to business model vulnerability, size really doesn't matter.

Covering more core costs through more unrestricted funding may be necessary, but it won't be sufficient to guarantee greater resilience and enable not-for-profit organizations to scale their impact. That requires the adoption of diverse and overlapping business models. The COVID-19 pandemic surely provides added impetus for moving quickly in such a direction.

Headshot_Gerard McHughGerard McHugh is founder and president of Conflict Dynamics International. A serial entrepreneur with more than thirty years' experience in international conflict resolution, humanitarian affairs. and health care, he recently founded a new venture, AidX, to help ordinary people achieve the extraordinary. This post originally appeared on Conflict Dynamics' Medium channel and is reprinted here with permission.

Notes:

1. In this article, the term "general operating support" relates to unrestricted funding for the operations of the organization. The term "core funding" refers to funding for the core activities of the organization and can be restricted or unrestricted.

2. For more information on the Grand Bargain, see https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/about-the-grand-bargain [Accessed October 12, 2020]

3. Maria Di Mento, "Five CEOs of Wealthy Foundations Pledge to Do More to Help Charities Pay Overhead," The Chronicle of Philantrophy, September, 4 2019. Available at: https://www.philanthropy.com/article/5-CEOs-of-Big-Foundations/247063 [Accessed October 12, 2020]

4. James B. Stewart and Nicholas Kulish. "Leading Foundations Pledge to Give More, Hoping to Upend Philanthropy." The New York Times, June 10, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/business/ford-foundation-bonds-coronavirus.html [Accessed October 12, 2020]

5. These are some of the approaches identified in the work of the Bridgespan Group’s "Pay What It Takes" initiative. See: https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/library/pay-what-it-takes/pay-what-it-takes-philanthropy [Accessed October 12, 2020]. See also: Jeri Eckhart-Queenan, Michael Etzel, & Sridhar Prasad, "Pay-What-It-Takes Philanthropy," Stanford Social Innovation Review Vol. 14 №3 (Summer 2016).

6. United States Dept. of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Tax on Unrelated Income of Tax Exempt Organizations, IRS Publication 598 (February 2019). Available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p598.pdf [Accessed October 12, 2020]

The role of offline and online behavior in advancing social causes

October 15, 2020

In May, when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in police custody, igniting protests across the country decrying police brutality against African Americans, the research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence was already tracking the response of young Americans to COVID-19. As spring turned into summer and the two issues merged into a nationwide movement centered around demands for racial justice, our researchers were able to observe in real time the forces that motivated individuals, nonprofits, companies, and allied causes to take action.

Indeed, it was an unprecedented opportunity for us to study how online and offline behavior feed off each other to create and drive a movement. And while we aren't claiming to show definitively that one kind of activity led to another, we were able to identify a number of patterns and connections among certain kinds of online and offline actions.

Looking more closely at the response to the virus and the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, we noticed some commonalities:

The power of corporate influence. Our research revealed that 80 percent of young Americans believe corporations can influence attitudes toward the virus through their actions*, while 75 percent believe they can have a "great deal" or "some" influence on mitigating racial inequality‡. As we were fielding our survey, for example, Nike’s "Play for the World" campaign was encouraging Americans to stay indoors and social distance; by the time Nike ended the campaign, it had generated 732,000 likes on Instagram and a total of about 900,000 social media engagements (Instagram, Twitter).

Lack of trust. Our research revealed that, in June, nearly 50 percent of young Americans thought President Trump was addressing racial issues "not well at all," with only 12 percent of respondents overall (and 16 percent of white respondents) saying he was handling the issue "moderately well." The same month, messages out of the White House or from Trump related to racial inequality or the pandemic were followed by spikes in social media activity*‡. An interview the president gave to FOX News' Chris Wallace that zeroed in on the administration’s response to COVID generated millions of tweets and retweets on Twitter. Tweets put out by the president calling an elderly protester "an antifa provocateur" generated a combined 531,000 responses; similarly, a Twitter announcement of a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, the site of a notorious race riot in 1921, generated 3.6 million tweets.

Fig1.1_Trump Perf on Racial Issues

Our analysis also revealed some differences in activism around the two issues:

Social media played a larger role as an information source for racial justice activists than as a source of information about COVID-19. According to our research, young people initially relied on local government (37 percent) and family members (30 percent) for information on COVID-19*, while 76 percent said they turned to social media "often" as a source for news and information related to racial equity‡. At about the same time, the first week of June, the hashtags #BLM and #BlackLivesMatter generated more than 1 million tweets, while across all social media platforms hundreds of thousands of individuals shared updates containing references to Black Americans who had died in police custody.

Young Americans are more likely to turn to celebrities and online influencers for information about racial equity than for information about COVID-19. Our research revealed that in the first month of the pandemic, 40 percent of young Americans said they took some kind of action related to the pandemic because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did, while in the  month following George Floyd's death, 52 percent of all respondents (and 58 percent of Black respondents) said they took action because of something a celebrity or online influencer said or did. In early June, a Black Lives Matter special featuring comedian Dave Chappelle garnered 22 million YouTube views. Later in June,  #ObamaDayJune14 generated more than 500,000 tweets, while a tweet by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stating that "The United States of America should not have secret police" generated nearly 500,000 likes and was the #3 trending tweet that day.

Different immediate responses. Our research also found that, initially, young people were inclined to shop locally as the best way to help out with the pandemic, and that only 25 percent said they were sharing COVID-19 information via their social media channels*. In the week after George Floyd's death, however, the top actions taken by young people in response to his death were posting on social media and signing petitions,‡ including 2 million social engagements featuring a #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and 1.6 million using the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday.

Our conclusion: Social media tends to bring together both like-minded people and people with polarizing views across all types of divides — including income level, geography, age, education, work experience, etc. — for "conversations" that unfold in real time. The impacts of the COVID pandemic and calls for racial justice will continue to overlap in the lead up to the election in November; what happens after that is anyone's guess. But by examining offline actions and online engagements and conversations, we can begin to understand the interplay of dramatic events and social movements in real time and how each contributes to, and reinforces, action to advance a cause.

To see all the research and sources referenced in this article, visit: causeandsocialinfluence.com/ActionsAndOnlineDiscourse.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. Read more by Derrick here.

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* Influencing Young America to Act, Special COVID-19 Research Report - Spring 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research.

Influencing Young America to Act, Special Report - June 2020, causeandsocialinfluence.com/2020research-june.

Evaluation has a key role to play in racial equity work

October 13, 2020

EvaluationAs a woman of color, evaluator, and nonprofit leader for more than ten years, I am encouraged to see a growing number of foundations and nonprofits embrace efforts to advance racial equity and justice.

At this uncertain moment in our history, we have an opportunity to heal, restore, and create a more inclusive and abundant future for all. It is an opportunity, however, that could disappear as quickly as it emerged — if we don’t seize it.

As we have learned over the last six months, efforts to address racial tensions and inequities and promote healing and narrative change are desperately needed. Those efforts can and should be evaluated.

The good news is that foundations and nonprofits can build on work that is already under way. Through its $24 million Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) initiative, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is one of the foundations leading the way in investing in and evaluating such efforts.

Last year, my firm worked with a client to evaluate a TRHT program whose objective was to ease racial tensions and promote healing and narrative change among young people through book groups. In the process, we learned some surprising things.

A number of participants had "aha" moments — like the European-American youth who came to realize that saying the n-word, even in a song, was problematic. But there was another, more common outcome: Adult book group leaders were among those who most benefited from the program, with many saying the program helped them recognize their own implicit biases and understand what systemic racism really looks like at the level of the individual.

That unexpected outcome highlighted the need for more training and support for adult group leaders. Based on our findings, in year two of the program the client was able to enhance both the value it delivered and to foster more healing and peace-building in the community. Our big takeaway was this: nonprofits and foundations working to advance racial equity can be more effective by rigorously evaluating those programs.

Foundations and nonprofits should also foreground long-standing inequities in their evaluation efforts — inequities that often obscure root causes underlying the problem we are trying to address. A skilled evaluator can help surface such complex dynamics.

For example, when BECOME was asked to evaluate a first round of grants awarded by the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities in support of innovative approaches to neighborhood safety in Chicago, we started with a literature review of violence prevention programs in other jurisdictions.

In the process, we discovered that interventions such as job programs or social and emotional skills training focus on the immediate needs of individuals. But adult violence also is linked to factors more distant — such as redlining or trauma due to heightened exposure to violence. Community violence too often is the legacy of policies that, over time, forcibly segregated communities by race and income, tilting the playing field against Black, indigenous, and other people of color. No matter how well designed an intervention might be, if it fails to address such root causes, it is unlikely to succeed.

One of the key findings we were able to share with the team at the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities is that interventions delivered in a consistent fashion and coordinated with other actions had the most impact. That kind of approach is now a feature of the current iteration of the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities initiative.

Last but not least, we have learned that evaluation is most effective when it is culturally responsive and engages multiple stakeholders — especially those likely to be impacted by the intervention — in the process of developing questions, designing solutions, and recommending next steps based on lessons learned.

The resulting combination of learning, engagement, informed design, and collaborative implementation is much more likely to lead to programs that deliver safety and security, health and well-being, and education for all.

To create a society in which thriving communities of color and economic opportunity for all is the norm, we need to take steps now to address the root causes of poverty and racial injustice. Evaluation can help us do that.

Headshot_dominica-mcbrideDominica McBride, PhD, is the founder and CEO of BECOME, a nonprofit organization that uses evaluation as a tool to advance social justice and thriving communities.

Why don’t nonprofits have the tech they need?

October 08, 2020

Bootcamp+Jan19+1The world had big challenges — even before a global pandemic arrived. According to the Social Progress Index, we were on pace to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 no sooner than 2094, more than sixty years too late. And in the meantime, COVID-19 has set many efforts back.

Normally, when businesses imagine how they might do twice as much, or ten times as much, with the same money or the same number of people, they think about using technology as their engine of innovation. Why is it that the nonprofit sector behaves differently?

I've spent the last thirty years bringing technology to places and needs where Silicon Valley doesn't go because they aren't lucrative enough. In that time, I've recognized several recurring issues that have hampered the social sector from using technology to be more effective.

Lack of investment

A host of negative memes continue to circulate in the nonprofit sector among social sector leaders and the donors that fund them, leading to massive underinvestment in technology. Here are a few of them:

Money should be spent on helping people; tech is overhead. Most funders view tech as overhead, even when it has huge benefits for social mission outcomes. The message to NGO leaders is, Deliver more services. It's not unusual that a social sector leader dismisses spending even 10 percent of his/her budget on tech, even when such an investment would double the organization's impact.

Tech costs too much. Even though many makers of technology offer special nonprofit discount programs and most tech people working in nonprofits take big pay cuts, there is a widespread perception that technology and tech people are too expensive.

Tech doesn't work. The generally bad quality of advice given to nonprofits and foundations amplifies the idea that tech is expensive and doesn't work. I spend much of my time helping other nonprofits by doing "anti-consulting," which is talking them out of terrible ideas someone told them they should do. The average nonprofit does not need an app that no one will download or a magical blockchain solution.

Lack of strategic tech talent. Nonprofits generally lack the strategic tech talent they need to apply technology for maximum impact. Even in nonprofit organizations with a tech team, tech expertise is often seen as a support function, like accounting or facilities. Yes, IT services are important to a modern organization to keep the laptops operating and the email flowing. But segregating tech from core program activities results in huge missed opportunities to increase the social impact of a nonprofit.

An ambitious for-profit startup company wouldn't dream of launching without strategic tech talent on the senior management team, an individual (or individuals) who can help other members of the team understand what's working and what isn't and facilitate rapid learning.

While there are certainly some exciting nonprofits out there that, effectively, are software companies at their core, including Skoll Award-winning social enterprises like Benetech, Kiva, and Thorn, this is not an argument that every nonprofit needs its own team of software developers. However, every nonprofit that is ambitious about scaling needs its own strategic tech leader whose interests are fully aligned with the nonprofit's social mission. A strategic tech leader can advise where to apply technology to best effect and how to acquire it successfully.

Lack of infrastructure

When a modern for-profit company gets created, there is extensive technology infrastructure readily available. This includes common data standards that make it easy to connect different pieces of tech together. Just about every industry has dozens of cloud-based SaaS platforms that a new company can rent and that  compete on features, price, and ease of setup.

Outside of a few bright spots like public health, the nonprofit sector lacks this infrastructure. Underinvestment in tech means common SaaS platforms aren't built or available, which results in what I call the "cult of the custom." Too many nonprofits and agencies assume that their programmatic needs are unique and overpay to get custom or semi-custom tech solutions that generally end up being of poor quality. Can you imagine every dental office or golf course believing it needs to create its own unique software to operate?

If your nonprofit is the only customer for a unique piece of software built just for it, it's also the only entity paying for upgrades to that piece of software. As a result, your costs are generally higher because they are not spread over many customers.

With nonprofits already operating without enough funding, especially during the pandemic, all these dynamics lead to even more cycles of underinvestment in tech.

Advancing social change with tech

The time for technology in social change has come. The pandemic has underscored the need for tech capabilities. Fortunately, there is a new wave of nonprofits, donors, and coalitions who collectively realize that an integrated tech strategy is essential to achieving a social mission — just as it is essential for ambitious for-profit companies. Technology has immense untapped potential to help advance social innovation, benefiting humanity and the planet. It is time to tap that potential.

Jim-Fruchterman-squareJim Fruchterman is the CEO of Tech Matters, a nonprofit tech company in Silicon Valley that helps social change leaders understand what tech can and can't do and builds tech solutions that solve social problems. This post originally appeared on the Techonomy site and is republished here with permission.

A conversation with Mari Kuraishi, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund

October 06, 2020

Mari Kuraishi came to prominence as president of GlobalGiving, which she co-founded with her husband, Dennis Whittle, in 2002. During her time there, the crowdfunding platform facilitated over $514 million in giving by more than a million donors to twenty-seven thousand projects around the world. In 2011, Kuraishi, who previously had worked at the World Bank, where she spearheaded the launch of the Development Marketplace, was named one of Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers for "crowdsourcing worldsaving." Since January 2019, she has served as president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Jacksonville, Florida.

PND recently spoke with Kuraishi — who chaired the board of GuideStar before it combined with Foundation Center in 2019 to form Candid and then served as co-chair of the Candid board during its first year — about the impact of crowdfunding on the global development landscape, her work at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and what she has learned about the social sector's response to urgent problems.

Mari_kuraishi_jessie_ball_dupontPhilanthropy News Digest: After seeing firsthand through your work at the World Bank the difficulty local officials and social entrepreneurs often had in securing funding for their development projects, you and your husband co-founded the world's first crowdfunding platform. Back then, what made you think individuals in developed countries would be willing to participate directly in the funding of such projects?

Mari Kuraishi: That is a very good question, because back in 2000 when we left the World Bank there actually was very little evidence that people were ready to give online, let alone to projects based thousands of miles away. To be sure, many generous donors existed, giving to brand-name NGOs like CARE, Oxfam, or the International Red Cross, but even those organizations were not yet online. Still, we were convinced that individual donors would give if they had a platform through which to do it. We were also sure that changes in technology would transform people's sense of proximity, and we knew that proximity was a key driver of generosity. What we weren't so sure about was how quickly it would happen.

PND: How has the popularity of crowdfunding and crowdfunding sites changed the international development landscape in the last dozen years or so?

MK: That's a little harder to calculate. Crowdfunding has definitely transformed giving in the U.S. since we founded GlobalGiving; online giving now represents almost a tenth of giving overall, starting from almost zero in 2000. That means more than $4 billion flowed through online giving platforms in 2019. What part of that $4 billion goes to international development projects, I can't tell you. But I do know this: in 2002, when we put up the first version of our website, we processed $25,000 in donations. This year it looks like GlobalGiving will process close to $100 million in donations to thousands of project leaders all over the world.

PND: While you were at GlobalGiving, the organization developed a framework of core values that included things like "always open" and "listen, act, learn, repeat." The emphasis on listening, on solutions developed by those on the front lines, and on continuous improvement through evidence-based learning has been adopted by many other nonprofits and foundations in recent years. Do you think what appears to be a gradual shift away from top-down funding models to more bottom-up crowdsourced models is here to stay?

MK: You're speaking right to my confirmation bias. I'm the woman who thought online giving was around the corner at the end of the year 2000. Yes, I think respecting the problem-solving capacities of communities and local leaders is here to stay. Not only are we seeing hashtags like #shiftthepower, we're seeing movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women's March come to the fore, so I cannot help but think that citizen leadership is on the rise. And perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but it's not necessarily a shift away from top-down to bottom-up, so much as there is a scope for both types of leadership and action — just in different contexts.

PND: You are a firm believer in using data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. Is the sector making progress in that area, and what are some of the challenges that may be slowing that progress?

MK: Yes, I think we are making progress in the use of data to grow and strengthen trust between funders and nonprofits. First, data is easier and cheaper to collect and analyze; we have technology to thank for that. Second, we have emerging standards for what data matters — ranging from the philosophical, conceptual, and qualitative frameworks provided by movements like Leap Ambassadors, centered around the Leap of Reason initiative launched by Mario Morino, to the specific and granular, like the GuideStar/Candid Exchange profile. All of this creates a way for organizations to benchmark their own status and progress. I see three challenges in this regard: first, data scientists are still scarce and expensive in the social sector; second, not as many funders understand how to interpret the data, which means that sometimes we don't make the jump into trust-based philanthropy as readily as we might; and, finally, not everyone agrees that the corollary to greater transparency from nonprofits is more unrestricted funding.

PND: What is your take on how COVID-19 is impacting charitable giving in general and crowdfunding for development projects in particular?

MK: You should probably ask Alix Guerrier, my successor, as he's the man at the helm of crowdfunding in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. I can tell you, though, that what I've heard from grantees at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund — who do not engage in international development — is that their traditional models of fundraising, which rely in great part on in-person events, have taken a hit, and that has spurred them to think a lot more about the potential for crowdfunding to fill the gaps.

PND: The Jessie Ball duPont Fund's grantmaking activities are guided by two strategic themes: equity and placemaking. What are the foundation's top priorities at the moment? And have the COVID-19 crisis and this summer's protests against systemic racism changed how you approach those priorities?

MK: Our priorities are in striking the right balance between seeking specific opportunities for change while also meeting the needs of our grantees and enhancing their resilience and effectiveness. To that end, we've built out an ambitious technical assistance program for grantees focused on fundraising, listening to constituent feedback, building capacity around data and equity, and achieving organizational transparency. The COVID-19 crisis really pushed us to undertake this as a hedge against the speed and magnitude of change that the crisis wrought. The protests against systemic racism redoubled our commitment to equity, which we had identified as a core direction through a strategy review we conducted last year. It has also increased the urgency I personally feel around making sure that we are not perpetuating systemic injustices through the patterns and processes of our grantmaking.

PND: As of the beginning of the year, about a third of the fund's endowment was invested in a socially responsible manner or to achieve a positive social or environmental impact. Can you tell us about the kinds of impact investments the fund is looking to make?

MK: The majority of our socially responsible investments, roughly $108 million, are in portfolios of companies that have been screened for best business practices, such as anti-discrimination, gender and racial equity, workforce development, wealth creation, and anti-pollution, among others.

About 6 percent, $18 million, is invested in high-impact funds and companies focused on affordable housing, support for small businesses, medical/social service tech, and clean energy. Illumen Capital, for instance, has a double bottom line of anticipated market-rate return and social impact. By directing capital to women- and people of color-owned businesses, Illumen finds traditionally overlooked value and doubles down by also working with financial managers to reduce their implicit biases in investing.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is largely place-based and about $12 million of our high-impact investments are in the communities Mrs. duPont cared about. These investments have mostly been in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that provide access to affordable capital to developers, as well as individuals who might not qualify for traditional commercial bank loans but need money for a car, mortgage, or to capitalize a small business.

PND: Asian Americans have not always been front and center in movements for racial and social justice. Why is that, and do you think it is changing?

MK: Yes, you're right that Asian Americans are underrepresented in movements for racial and social justice. But we did have people like Fred Korematsu, who explicitly challenged the internment order for Japanese Americans all the way up to the Supreme Court — and lost — and Yuri Kochiyama, who was at Malcolm X's side when he was assassinated. Both were radicalized by their experience of internment, and perhaps that points to an answer to your question about Asian Americans and racial or social justice. Perhaps, as a community, we have tended to not tell those stories of injustice — except for extremely visible and acute events like the internment — and thereby have not mobilized our own communities. I do think that Asian-American Gen Z-ers and millennials seem to be as fired up as their peers — my personal favorite is K-pop fans mobilizing for Black Lives Matter — but I'll admit my conclusion is based entirely on an anecdote here.

PND: Your professional career has included stints at a huge, well-resourced multilateral organization, at a social enterprise startup, and now at an established private foundation. What have those experiences taught you about the ways in which the social sector responds to urgent problems and about what it might do differently to create more impact and really move the needle on those problems? Are you hopeful it will be able to do so?

MK: That's difficult to distill into a short answer, but here's a take. Large, well-resourced multilateral organizations organize their inputs and subject their business processes to scrutiny, much like large, for-profit multilateral institutions do, with one exception: their results aren't subject to competition. Social enterprise startups usually have to compete to get attention and capital to survive, but many don't have the resources to invest in other resources, such as human capital. The foundation world isn't really impacted by competition, either. I'd say that I was forced into greater accountability and transparency and soul-searching at the startup than at either of the two other places. So, the one thing I might say is that competition, channeled well, matters.

It would be good, I think, for us in the foundation and multilateral-aid worlds, to hold ourselves accountable to a greater degree of transparency, such as benchmarking ourselves to common standards. Of course, I can foresee the potential for dispute around those standards, so perhaps we just start with greater transparency and see where it leads us. But the urgency of the need to become more effective than we are today, I think, is undeniable. It's the only feasible response to what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the "Full Catastrophe," because in the short run at least, we can't magically come up with more resources to dedicate to the growing list of challenges we face.

— Kyoko Uchida

How to achieve brand consistency for your nonprofit

September 29, 2020

Digital_marketing_table_GettyImagesYou've got a dynamite logo, a compelling tagline, and great messaging, but most of the time your staff goes about its business as if it none of that existed. What to do?

Consistent application of a unified visual identity and messaging is critical to building brand recognition. Over the years, I've found that nonprofits often struggle to achieve that kind of consistency. Because communications and marketing staff often are stretched, they may not be able to respond to every design or communication request and non-marketing people will end up creating the needed collateral. The result?

  • a social media manager posts updates with your old logo
  • a program manager sends out an event flyer using non-brand fonts or colors
  • an office manager creates a listing for a local magazine and doesn't include approved brand messaging
  • a member of the development staff creates an email using a template with an image and colors that have no relationship to your brand
  • staff, anxious to support a program or appeal with collateral, end up creating materials that are less than professional

These may seem like little things, but such actions can undo a lot of the work that goes into designing and building a strong brand. The best way to avoid such headaches is to create a culture that understands and respects the organization's brand. Here are a few things you can do to get you started.

1. Ensure that everyone understands the importance of a strong brand. It starts at the top. Leadership has to prioritize branding and lead by communicating the importance of a strong brand to everyone in the organization. It can do this by describing how a strong brand helps accomplish the organization's goals — from improving its reputation and visibility, to attracting more funders and participants, to expanding its programs or service area. Brand discussions at the board level should happen at least once a year, should focus on how the organization is living up to its brand promise, and should include a review of the organization's own position vis-à-vis its competitors.

Another way to elevate the importance of the brand is to appoint a brand manager and have that person report directly to the executive director, with whom he or she should have regular (at least quarterly) meetings to discuss how the brand is being positioned and maintained, and what kind of resources are needed to support the brand and branding efforts on an ongoing basis.

Another way to signal that the brand is an integral part of the organization is to make brand maintenance a part of everyone's job description. You should also look for regular opportunities to underscore the fact that the brand is a priority (e.g., at staff meetings and in memos).

2. Have clear brand guidelines. Having a brand style guide is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your brand. The guide can be distributed in print or digital format, posted to a website, or delivered as a slide deck or video. The key thing, however, is that it is delivered in a format that's appropriate for the intended audience. Typically, this might be a formal set of guidelines for marketing and communications staff tasked with creating materials and a more general brand booklet or video for staff and others who need to understand the essence of the brand.

In creating brand guidelines, be sure that the people tasked with using and enforcing them understand them. Avoid technical jargon and assumptions about end users' knowledge of design, typography, color palettes, and print and digital production issues.

3. Provide effective training. Just because you have brand guidelines doesn't mean that people will follow them. That's where brand training comes in. And when developing brand training for staff, be sure to accommodate differences in learning styles. For example, some staff members may be more auditory than visual in the way they relate to the world and may not be as quick to see the difference in how the logo, typefaces, or design elements are treated or realize when something is off. Communicate your brand guidelines in ways everyone can understand, and be sure to include vivid examples of do's and don'ts.

The onboarding process for new staff is a perfect time to introduce the brand and expectations for how it should be expressed. Don't just hand new employees (or volunteers) a manual and expect them to get it. Instead, make sure they know that communicating the brand, and paying attention to brand consistency, is an important part of their job, and encourage them to ask questions if they're unsure about anything.

4. Put systems in place to support the proper use of the brand. People can't use your logo, photos, or other brand assets if they can't access them, so make sure everyone on staff has access to the materials they need. A cloud-based server is an excellent way to ensure such access, but whether they're in the cloud, on your intranet, or posted to dedicated brand website, make sure your brand elements are organized in a way so that they are easy to find. Larger organizations may even benefit from a digital asset management (DAM) system.

Another way to support your brand is to have a person tasked with answering questions as they arise and someone else who is responsible for ensuring that the brand assets are maintained.

5. Showcase examples of good practices. Reward good behavior. Collect and share examples of staff using the brand effectively and be sure to explain why a specific use case helps the organization.

6. Encourage peer-to-peer support. Have those staff members who do a good job of following your brand guidelines and promoting your brand show others how it's done. In most cases, staff will be more inclined to listen to or learn from a peer than from management — particularly in cases where a regional or satellite office is involved.

7. Impose consequences if guidelines are not followed. If carrots don't work, you may have to use a stick. The penalty for non-compliance with organizational brand guidelines can range from a rebuke to a note on an employee's performance review. Before you go down that road, however, make sure everyone is aware of the expectations around the brand, has been trained in proper brand usage, and has access to the resources they need to comply with your brand guidelines.

Of course, there's always Plan B: outsource your brand and communications work to an agency or hire a freelancer. Doing so will eliminate the need for ongoing training and constant oversight of staff outreach efforts. It also will lighten the load on staff, who may be grateful to have more time they can use to help constituents.

Whether you outsource brand management or do it in-house, make a conscious plan and follow it.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is president of the Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

Remote Onboarding: Set Up New Hires for Success

September 11, 2020

Remote_onboardingWhat was once unthinkable — hiring someone over Zoom without ever interviewing him or her in person – is, like so much else in our lives in 2020, becoming the norm. At Koya Leadership Partners, we noticed in April and May that many of our clients were uncomfortable with video-only interviewing processes but by June and July were plowing ahead, fully aware that there really wasn't any other option.

We've also heard from hiring managers who've developed safe ways to meet candidates in person as the (video) interview process enters its final stages. One CEO I know set up a series of socially-distanced one-on-one meetings in a public park. Another decided to take Zoom to the next level and have "Zoom coffees" with finalist candidates in an attempt to recreate the less-formal meetings they might have had pre-pandemic.

But what happens after you've negotiated all the challenges of hiring a new employee through a video-interview process and that person is about to start her new role remotely? In a COVID world, how do you successfully onboard a new hire and set her up for success in her role while also familiarizing her with your organizational culture?

Here are a few tips for remote onboarding that you may find useful during these unusual — and unusually challenging — times:

Begin the onboarding process before a new employee's first day. Your new hire won't have the benefit of coming into an office environment, being able to ask questions of those around him, and spontaneously striking up new work-based relationships. You can help jump-start all this by strategically setting the stage for onboarding before an employee's first day. Send the employee a welcome package with an assortment of gifts or swag (anything with the organization's logo that can be displayed on a desktop is a good idea) and any HR documents that need to be signed. A hand-written note from the hiring manager and the employee's future teammates is an especially nice gesture. You should also share the employee's onboarding schedule as soon as it's available so that he knows what to expect and which tech tools and platforms he'll be using.

Speaking of tech, you want to focus on it as soon as a hire has been finalized. Communications platforms are critical during the remote period leading up to a new employee's first day on the job. Make sure new hires are familiar with all the platforms and software they'll be expected to use and that their home-office setups are integrated with your systems and fully functioning. New hires will feel particularly adrift if it takes a while to get up to speed with what's happening at their new place of work.

Consider culture. It's particularly hard for new team members to acclimate to an organizational culture when everyone is working remotely. But many organizations have figured out and are using communications platforms to build and strengthen culture. You can, too. Are there unofficial Slack channels about cooking or movies or other topics that a new hire might be interested in? Be sure to highlight those. It's also a good idea to be intentional about video meetings. Be sure to hold regularly scheduled virtual town halls or team meetings that give employees an opportunity to come together in one (virtual) place to learn together and get to know one another.

Proactively facilitate connections. Pair the new team member with a mentor and a peer who can show them the ropes, answer their questions, and serve as guides to the culture. Task the mentor or "buddy" with setting up regular virtual lunches or coffees with the new hire until they are fully acclimated, and proactively schedule virtual "meet and greets" with other team members (rather than assuming they'll happen on their own).

Set expectations. Carve out some time to talk to your new hire specifically about communications norms and practices. How and when do teams communicate? When do folks send an email or make a phone call instead of using Slack? Are there norms around response time? Are there places or methods for sharing wins or celebrating birthdays? Also be sure to talk about work hours and schedules and to let your new team member know what the expectations are around her online presence and activity (e.g., does the organization support flex hours/schedules? Are employees expected to check emails early in the day? late in the day? all day? Are they expected to be available on weekends?).

Maintain structured communications with your new employee longer than you might in a more normal situation. New hires should have a weekly (at least) check-in with their manager and, ideally, twice a week for the first few weeks. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to reach out if they need additional support beyond regularly scheduled check-in calls. This kind of ongoing communication — both scheduled and impromptu — is key for successfully onboarding new employees in a work-from-home situation where they are unable to walk over to a colleague's desk to ask a question.

Remote onboarding isn't ideal. But with planning and the right kind of follow-through, it is possible to do it well and set a new hire up for long-term success. Good luck!

Headshot_molly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

To help communities survive crises, trust and invest in their leadership

September 08, 2020

Kresge_fresh_lo_initiative_2Amid multiple ongoing crises, foundations are struggling with how best to support the nonprofit sector — in particular, community-based organizations working to address a raging pandemic, police violence, and systemic racism.

Led by people with a wealth of lived experience, community-based groups have long been a critical source of support for under-resourced neighborhoods struggling to rise above interconnected challenges, including insufficient access to fresh and affordable food, clean air, and safe, healthy housing.

By listening to and investing in local organizations, philanthropy has helped accelerate resident-centered collaborative approaches that have made it possible for such groups to pivot to meet immediate COVID-related needs and maintain their financial footing during an economic downturn that has forced many nonprofits to shut their doors.

One such group, the Memphis-based Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC), which works to promote people-first property development, support affordable home ownership, and train new food entrepreneurs in English, Spanish, and Arabic, hasn't missed a beat since COVID emerged as a public health crisis earlier this spring. Although the virus forced the organization to pause its regular programming to ensure proper social distancing, it is still hard at work making sure the small food businesses it supports have the resources they need to navigate these uncertain times and sustain themselves in a post-pandemic world. Recently, for example, it secured a catering deal for one local entrepreneur to prepare food for emergency medical staff, helping that small business owner earn the income needed to survive while supporting critical frontline workers.

And BDC isn't alone. Montbello Organizing Committee, a group of community organizers and developers based in Denver’s multiracial Montbello neighborhood, responded to the pandemic by immediately organizing emergency food distribution and working with partners to distribute meals to more than eight hundred people a day. In New Brunswick, New Jersey, resident-led nonprofit Elijah's Promise has provided twice-daily meals to locals out of its community soup kitchen and is serving more than three times as many meals today as it did before the virus became a concern. And through its Corner Store Witness initiative, the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and its community partners recently held a virtual convening to discuss the challenges immigrant-owned corner stores in inner-city neighborhoods are facing and what can be done to provide a path forward to long-term healing and the building of real community power. All these organizations are working locally to meet the needs of the communities in which they are embedded and are examples of the idea that in times of crisis, hyper-local investment is essential for community survival.

About five years ago, the Kresge Foundation developed a grant program, Fresh Local & Equitable (FreshLo), to support resident-led approaches to community challenges that prioritizes cultural expression and food as a social determent of health. A joint initiative of Kresge's Health and Arts & Culture programs, FreshLo intentionally integrates food, art, and creative approaches to community building to drive neighborhood revitalization equitably.

One of our top priorities is raising up resident-centered, collective action that includes the voices of those who live and work in the community. During the grantmaking process, we intentionally looked for neighborhoods that have lacked access to foundation funding — especially those in the South and Midwest. We knew that groups on the ground were already doing important community-driven work and we hoped the funding we could provide would help seed new networks, bring resident-led projects to life, and develop infrastructure that could support their neighborhoods over time.

The twenty-three community-based groups we selected were already doing the work needed to drive long-term neighborhood change — the type of work Kresge has been exploring for nearly a decade through its Creative Placemaking efforts, which are based on the idea that progress depends on a more nuanced understanding of urban inequality and how arts, culture, and community-engaged design intersect with strategies to expand opportunities for residents in low-income communities.

It was the social cohesion and vision shared by residents in these neighborhoods that excited us and created, in our view, the essential pre-conditions for long-term change. That vision also served as a vital ground wire for the collective action needed to mitigate some of the impacts related to the pandemic and structural racism.

Over the past six months, we've seen these organizations evolve their programs and services to meet emerging needs of their communities. We had a hunch that investing in resident-driven collective action and cultural solutions would help strengthen communities that had been neglected for decades; the pandemic has proven that hunch right. The results of our grantees' efforts show that place-based, culture-first investing is critical in times of crisis.

In Minnesota, Native-led community organization and FreshLo grantee Dream of Wild Health has tripled its farmland with support from Kresge. During a pandemic — when food sovereignty is paramount — the organization's sustainable farming practices, informed by Indigenous knowledge and traditions, have proven key to meeting the growing food needs of its community. Not only is the group cultivating its land to yield more fresh produce for current and future generations, it's also delivering food to elders who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus and supporting other members of the community impacted by COVID and ongoing protests against racial injustice.

Similarly, In Oakland, FreshLo grantee Planting Justice has spent decades mobilizing people impacted by mass incarceration to work toward neighborhood revitalization and food sovereignty. Since the pandemic began, the organization has shifted work at its plant nursery to provide critical produce and smoothie distribution to more than a thousand neighbors a week. As its community faces job loss and economic challenges, it also has taken on forty paid interns, creating new opportunities for professional development and routing money to local families, supported by additional COVID-response funding from Kresge.

Like Montbello, Elijah's Promise, and IMAN, the organization's ability to quickly pivot and use resources where they are most needed is a testament to the trust it has built up and its commitment to its neighbors. Investments in social infrastructure and the leadership of groups like Dream of Wild Health and Planting Justice can only strengthen their work.

For historically underresourced and marginalized neighborhoods, and the people who live in them, responding to crises is nothing new. But they are more likely to survive a crisis when strong community connections already exist and they receive the support needed to take neighborhood-level action. The lessons from the FreshLo initiative suggest that investments in social cohesion, local leadership, and community enterprises can yield huge dividends.

The crises we are grappling with today — and those to follow — require that we lean on our neighbors. The strongest safety nets are constructed out of local knowledge, relationships, and community action, and philanthropy should do what it can to support them.

(Photo credit: Kresge Foundation Fresh Local & Equitable Initiative)

Stacey_Barbas_Regina_R_Smith_PhilanTopic

Stacey Barbas is a senior program officer in the Health program and Regina R. Smith is managing director of the Arts & Culture program at the Kresge Foundation.

5 ways to use your donor data for #GivingTuesday

September 04, 2020

Donate-now#GivingTuesday is a global day of generosity that usually takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In 2019, $1.97 billion was raised on that Tuesday alone. And this year, nonprofits have an opportunity to build on that success and generate even more support for their programs and mission.

As you and your colleagues begin to prepare for this year's event and start to brainstorm strategies to maximize your organization's success, consider how donor data can help. From conducting prospect research before the big day to analyzing the data afterwards, there are many ways that donor data can be used to elevate your #GivingTuesday results specifically and overall fundraising results more generally.

Below, we consider in more detail some of the most effective ways to utilize donor data, including:

  1. keeping your data clean
  2. identifying your best prospects
  3. segmenting your donors
  4. optimizing future outreach
  5. looking for opportunities to match gifts

Let's take a closer look at each of our recommendations for putting donor data to good use this #GivingTuesday.

1. Keep your donor data clean. We've found that it's easier to use donor data when that data is clean. Strategizing and designing a #GivingTuesday campaign with incorrect data can negatively impact relationships with donors you've spent so much effort cultivating. If you're looking for an in-depth explanation about the importance of data hygiene, check out this article from AccuData.

The easiest way to create and maintain clean data is to use a CRM (constituent relationship management) database. A CRM compiles information about each of your constituents in individual profiles, enabling you to easily access any donor's giving history, communications activity, and relationship status.

With a CRM, you can also do the following to clean your data:

  • remove duplicate profiles
  • verify that a donor's contact information is up-to-date
  • remove the profiles of donors who haven't given in many years (although you should send a final appeal to them before removing their profiles from the system)
  • search for donors who have passed away since your last communication
  • egment your donors into relevant groupings

Once you've cleaned the data, analyze it for insights that can help you craft an effective outreach strategy. #GivingTuesday only comes around once a year, so make sure your planning for it is based on the best data you can get your hands on.

2. Identify new prospects. After you've cleaned your donor data, take the time to analyze it. Part of that process is what we call prospect research. Simply put, prospect research is the process of researching your would-be supporters to see which of them is most able and willing to donate to your organization. Some of the prospects you identify through the process will become regular supporters of your organization and a few of them could even have a significant impact by contributing a major gift.

Major donors should always be a priority for your organization. Some fundraising professionals even go so far as to say that 89 percent of a nonprofit's fundraising revenue should come from just 14 percent of its donors. That's why it's important to start cultivating these relationships as soon as you can — major donors tend to give their biggest gifts to organizations that consistently and authentically engage with them.

Determining which of your supporters is most likely to be a major donor before #GivingTuesday gives you the chance to approach them ahead of time and see where they stand.

To conduct prospect research efficiently, start by filtering your donor data using wealth and charitable indicators:

  • Wealth indicators. Things like real estate ownership, stock holdings, business affiliations, and so on will give you an idea of an individual's capacity to give.
  • Charitable indicators. A donor's past giving patterns, his or her relationship to your cause, his or her political contributions history, and so on will give you an idea of his or her willingness to give.

While you can conduct prospect research manually, your best bet is to invest in a tool built for the purpose. To learn more about how all these factors can be brought together to create useful profiles of your donors, check out our Essentials for Prospect Research guide.

3. Segment your donors. You can also use donor data to segment your donors. This is a great marketing strategy and is something you should do both before and after #GivingTuesday. Why?

Donor segmentation helps you better communicate and reach out to supporters in ways that are most likely to catch their attention and encourage their engagement.

You already know that donor data is key to beginning and sustaining valuable relationships. And, as we've noted, a good CRM will store and organize all your data for effective management.

Once your data is organized in your CRM, you can start grouping supporters. Segment your database into different lists based on key metrics and then formulate different communication strategies for each one. You can, for instance, segment donors by:

  • donation frequency
  • preferred method of giving
  • engagement preference or history
  • location
  • age
  • business affiliations
  • volunteer history

All of these factors (and more) should influence how you reach out to supporters before #GivingTuesday (and afterwards). For example, you might find that younger people in your audience prefer to be communicated with via social media, whereas older folks prefer email or even direct mail.

4. Optimize future outreach. One of the best ways to increase response rates, build deeper connections, and improve donor retention is to personalize your outreach. Simply sending a thank-you email with a donor's name and the size of her gift size will help her remember you the next time she decides to make a donation.

And after #GivingTuesday is over, you're likely have a whole batch of new donors, as well as data about them that will come in handy for your future fundraising and stewardship efforts.

You can use that data to retain some of these new supporters and broaden your donor base in the long run by doing the following:

  • sending personal, targeted appeals asking for a specific contribution amount based on your donor analytics;
  • automating personalized gift receipts and acknowledgments, which can be done by using a mail-merge tool in your CRM;
  • using templated donor letters to explain to supporters how their gifts have advanced your mission and how their future gifts will continue to make an impact.

These and other ideas can help you close out the giving season on a positive note and set up additional donor-cultivation efforts in the new year.

5. Look for opportunities to match gifts. The relationship between nonprofits and for-profit businesses is changing as corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies are adopted by more and more corporations and companies step up to match donations that their employees make to nonprofits.

Unfortunately, many gifts go unmatched simply because donors are unaware that their gifts are match-eligible.

It's estimated that the nonprofit sector misses out on $4 billion to $7 billion in matching funds every year.

This #GivingTuesday, don't leave money on the table. The best ways to incorporate matching gifts into your strategy and ensure you leverage your donors' support to the maximum include:

  • embedding a matching gift database on your donation page that allows donors to look up their company and access any information it may have provided about its matching-gift policies.
  • using software that allows you to automatically look up email address domains provided by donors. If an email address is associated with a company that matches gifts, the donor will be notified of his or her eligibility.

Read more about corporate matching-gift programs and learn how you can maximize your fundraising potential by reviewing Double the Donation's corporate matching gift guide.

There are many ways to analyze and use your donor data. Whether that means identifying prospective donors, segmenting donor profiles, or just keeping your data clean, everything you do with the information you collect will have an impact on your fundraising efforts going forward. But don't take our word for it. Maximize your donation revenue this #GivingTuesday by trying out some or all of these techniques!

Sarah Tedesco_DonorSearch_PhilanTopicSarah Tedesco is executive vice president of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company.

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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