146 posts categorized "Social Good"

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.

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

Participatory design approaches to impact investing

July 15, 2020

Diversity_participants_around_table_GettyImagesAcross the social sector, impact investors are assessing the grave threats posed by COVID-19 — both the existential risk to the global economy and to the companies and funds in which we have invested. More than anything, we are aware of the need to listen, learn, and adapt to this moment.

Philanthropic funds have been investing for social impact since at least the 1990s, but it is only recently that the idea has caught on in the wider world. A 2019 report by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) found that some two hundred and fifty institutions, mostly in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, manage more than $239 billion in social impact investments around the world. At the end of 2018, GIIN estimated the full impact-investing market at $502 billion.

That's a lot of money, but who determines how it gets invested?

While the modern development-aid community places a premium on consultation with those who receive aid, impact investors do not necessarily do the same. Yes, most of the GIIN survey respondents link their declared objectives to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but conspicuously missing from their responses is any exploration of the question: How are affected workers, communities, and consumers involved in deciding where and how investments are made, in implementing the process, and in assessing the results? In other  words, can impact investing be made more democratic?

Currently, it is impact investors themselves who control the decision-making process, and the linchpin of their approach is an often-untested assumption that the benefits of the investment will trickle down to workers, communities, and/or consumers. That approach needs to change. While impact investing, with its profit imperative, is not the same as development aid or conventional grantmaking, it still seeks to deliver and measure social good. That's why we believe impact investors could take a few cues from philanthropic funds.

An effective participatory approach, which some call "user-design" or "co-design," could be integrated throughout the life-cycle of an investment — and the Open Society Foundation's Economic Justice Program has been supporting research by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex to map out how it might be done.

Our research team identified four key stages in which a participatory approach can make a difference:

Sourcing and approval: A number of impact investments made by OSF's Soros Economic Development Fund are testing out a participatory approach. In some cases, we have supported workshops, focus groups, and surveys through which the targeted community can outline its hopes and concerns. Impact investors can also require that assessment of community members' perspectives be included in all investment recommendations, while investment committees at funds focused on particular geographies or issues can include members of the community.

Managing: Impact investors can require that community members sit on an investee's board; or that communities be given some ownership of the investment through mechanisms such as "golden-share" arrangements (which come with enhanced voting rights); or that employees be offered stock ownership plans that give them a meaningful stake in both the operation and governance of the company. Investors could also consider adopting a participatory budgeting strategy that allows the targeted community to democratically allocate a portion of the intended investment.

Monitoring: There's a wide array of participatory methods for monitoring projects, including approaches involving "participatory statistics," in which local people generate their own data, or the "Most Significant Change" technique, which regularly asks those targeted by a program about its impact on their life. Such methods can be a complement to more traditional monitoring methods such as consumer surveys, town hall meetings, and focus groups.

Exit: The potential positive social impacts of an impact investment can easily be lost when an investor decides to pull out. To ensure the sustainability of an investment, investors should take steps to build a decision-making process that involves community members during a major transition such as a sale, an acquisition, or the bringing in of new investors. They can also think about offering the target community a say in any changes to the by-laws and/or a veto over any sale of the enterprise.

Many of these ideas are untested, but the field is changing fast. One of the most developed examples is the global Buen Vivir Fund, which was founded in 2018 by Thousand Currents, a nonprofit in California. Among its innovations, the fund invites local grassroots leaders to serve on the board with fund members and gives them equal voting rights in the fund's governance and management.

Clearly, a participatory approach can add costs and time for those on both sides of a deal. And it often makes an already difficult task even harder. We also understand that even in fields where it is standard procedure, community participation, when executed poorly, can amount to little more than expensive and time-consuming consultation. On the other hand, when done well it can leverage local knowledge in ways that benefit the investment process at every stage.

Despite the recent proliferation of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) funds, the potential costs of a participatory approach mean we should not expect the for-profit investment world to take the lead. But if philanthropy can show that such an approach actually generates positive impacts, we believe it's only a matter time before private funds take notice — and a participatory approach to impact investing becomes a differentiating factor they cannot afford to ignore. After all, isn't that what happened with social impact investing itself?

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Sean_Hinton_John_Gaventa_PhilanTopicSean Hinton is co-director of the Economic Justice Program at the Open Society Foundations and CEO of the Soros Economic Development Fund.

John Gaventa is a professor at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Background research was provided by Peter O'Flynn, now with New Philanthropy Capital, and Grace Higdon, IDS.

The power of diverse boards: an argument for change

June 04, 2020

Diversity_board_PhilanTopic_GettyImagesWe have a lot of work to do. Most of us have known this for some time, but the events of the last few weeks highlight just how much work remains to be done. The fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion never ends, and a clear and ongoing commitment to all three is needed if we are to create positive change. That commitment must start at the top.

Boards of directors operate at the highest level of organizational leadership, with each director expected to play a role in the development of the organization's strategic vision, operations, and overall culture. Numerous studies have shown that diversity positively impacts a company's financial performance. Indeed, a McKinsey & Company study found that firms in the top quartile for ethnic diversity in management and board composition are 35 percent more likely to earn financial returns above their respective national industry median.

Is the same true for the social sector? Is it important for nonprofit boards to embrace and model diversity, equity, and inclusion? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, and here's why:

Diversity drives organizational performance

Diversity inspires innovation. A board that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, and skill sets is more likely to generate innovation and push all its members to be more creative and open-minded. Today more than ever, social sector organizations need to develop multiple revenue streams, and leading-edge expertise in areas ranging from strategy to financial planning to operations is critical to a board's ability to conduct effective oversight.

Diversity catalyzes creativity. Diverse boards tend to be better at creative problem solving. Those who have had to adapt to physical disabilities encounter challenges on a daily, if not hourly, basis, while those subjected to systematic racism have had to adapt their entire lives. The ability to overcome challenges often translates to adaptive leadership, opening a world of possibilities in terms of program execution and organizational management.

Diversity fosters network breadth. Current or past clients who serve as board members add an element of authenticity and credibility to board deliberations and can serve as a "voice of experience" that informs and improves program planning. A greater awareness of who is actually being served gives boards information they need to develop strategies grounded in real-world facts. Such an understanding also provides context for proper resource allocation and effective strategic action, while helping to deepen an organization's relevance and impact.

Inclusion drives action

Let's try a thought experiment: take away all the benefits created by more diverse boards and imagine what the sector would look like :

  • too many nonprofits relying on a single, precarious revenue stream;
  • approaches to problem solving that are never improved on because "it has always been done that way";
  • clients who are viewed as beneficiaries rather than as equal partners in collective change efforts;
  • recruitment of staff and donors from among those who look and think like us; and
  • logic models and outcomes metrics informed by a single point of view.

Something magical and important happens when differences not only are not dismissed but are valued. But the benefits that diversity brings to a board are unlikely to be realized without an equal focus on inclusion. The perspective of all board members must be continuously sought and heard, and differences of opinion should always be welcomed.

Equity is the result

Equity and systems change are the outcomes of leaders fully embracing diversity and inclusion. In the absence of inclusion, it is too easy to become comfortable in our silence. Without diversity of thought and perspective, our value systems are compromised and systemic injustice goes unchallenged.

It is clear that board diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for all organizations, and especially so for nonprofits. To truly maximize a nonprofit's effectiveness, as well as its financial success, nonprofit boards must work diligently to ensure that different viewpoints are heard and incorporated. Change doesn't happen automatically or overnight. Boards must actively seek out those who can bring new perspectives to the table and challenge the status quo.

For those who currently serve on a nonprofit board, now is the time to act. Speak to your colleagues about steps the board can take to develop internal policies aimed at strengthening its diversity and begin to build a foundation for organizational leadership that supports change.

Similarly, if you've ever considered lending your time and talent to a nonprofit, now is the time to connect with one that is aligned with your passion and expertise. In these challenging, uncertain times, nonprofits are looking for all the expertise they can get their hands on.

The success of any organization starts at the top. Boards that want to maximize their effectiveness and performance must include socially and professionally diverse individuals who are committed to doing the work and are prepared to speak up and act for change. Good luck!

Pam Cannell_for_PhilanTopicPam Cannell is CEO of BoardBuild and has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance.

Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, the SDGs Are More Relevant Than Ever

May 10, 2020

SdgThe world is dealing with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, destroying lives and ruining livelihoods. The primary cost of the pandemic as calculated in the loss of human life is distressing, but the knock-on effects in terms of the global economy, people's livelihoods, and sustainable development prospects are even more alarming. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy has already fallen into recession, and while the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, the ultimate cost is likely to be extraordinary and unprecedented.

That is why we must all support the United Nations' call to scale up the immediate health response to the virus, with a particular focus on women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector, and vulnerable groups who were already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods, and get the global economy back on track.

At the same time, the pandemic has utterly exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system of governance and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt how poverty, inadequate health systems, underresourced educational systems, and sub-optimal global cooperation can exacerbate a crisis like COVID-19. These are exactly the kinds of challenges the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are meant to address.

The rapid spread of the virus has come at a time when the SDGs were beginning to get traction and a significant number of countries were making progress in implementing them. But with the world today consumed by the need to contain the virus and mitigate its many adverse and debilitating impacts, countries are resetting their priorities and reallocating resources to deal with the challenge.

Emerging evidence of the broader impact of the coronavirus crisis on efforts to achieve the SDGs should be troubling for all. UNESCO estimates that some 1.25 billion students globally have been affected by the pandemic, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 4, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) projects that some 25 million people could lose their jobs over the coming months, dealing a serious blow to progress on Sustainable Development Goal 8 — and that is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic also is creating roadblocks to progress on clean water and sanitation targets (Goal 6), addressing pervasive inequality (Goal 10), and, perhaps most importantly, addressing the twin crises of global poverty (Goal 1) and hunger/food insecurity (Goal 2). Indeed, the World Bank estimates that pandemic will push an additional 11 million people into poverty.

In other words, what we cannot afford to do in this critical moment is to de-link the global response to the pandemic from action on the SDGs. Indeed, by continuing to make progress on the SDGs, we will be putting ourselves on a firmer path to dealing with global health risks and the emergence of new infectious diseases in the future. Achieving SDGs Goal 3, for instance, will mean that we succeeded in strengthening the capacity of countries to conduct early warning surveillance, reduce the risk of contagious pathogens from spreading, and manage the situation promptly and effectively should they be faced with such a situation.

As the global community strives to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, we must seek to turn the crisis into an opportunity and ramp up our actions to support and ultimately achieve the goals by 2030. The world has the knowledge and expertise to muster the full complement of resources needed to to do that. Buoyed by a spirit of solidarity, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and civil society have been able to raise and direct trillions of dollars to defeat the virus. We can do the same to defeat global poverty, reduce inequality, provide a quality education to all, protect the climate, and build a more just and sustainable global economy. All that is missing is the political will.

As governments, business, and civil society around the world respond to the impacts of the pandemic, it is incumbent on all of us to stay focused on the underlying factors that have exacerbated those impacts. We cannot relent in our efforts, even amid this painful pandemic, to address people's basic needs, protect the beauty and diversity of our planet, and build a fairer and more just world. COVID-19 reminds us that we face common, global challenges that can only be solved through united, global action. In a crisis like this, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Erna Solberg are, respectively, president of the Republic of Ghana and prime minister of Norway and co-chairs of the UN Secretary-General's Eminent Group of Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals.

A Moment of Truth for Underserved Communities — and Us

April 07, 2020

Ahrcmrc CloudOver the coming weeks and months, COVID-19 is likely to affect everybody, everywhere, in some way or another. Some of those people will have access to well-resourced health systems and advanced health care. Most won't.

Around the world — and here in the United States — there are people in underserved communities who are feeling scared and alone — people who do not have access to quality education, health care, and, in many cases, even food. In this time of crisis, it's imperative we provide these communities and people with relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information about the coronavirus. They need the kind of information that so many of us have already gotten and take for granted: What are the symptoms of COVID-19? What should one do if s/he has symptoms? Who is at highest risk of infection? And how can you prevent the virus from spreading?

Quality, culturally sensitive education is critical if we hope to prevent the virus from spreading out of control, reduce the burden on our healthcare systems, and show our solidarity with those in need.

But we need to act now.

For the last several weeks, Curamericas Global and our volunteers have been on the phones alongside staff of the Guatemalan consulate in Raleigh, North Carolina, reaching out to the fifteen thousand families across the Carolinas in need of extra support during this difficult time. Many of these families do not speak English. Our volunteers are providing evidence-based information about the virus and serving as an ally and friend to those who may not know what to do if they get sick. It's something we learned firsthand through our work in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak there: prevention is the most important line of defense in keeping a bad situation from getting worse.

Continue reading »

The Arc of Justice: The World’s Religions Launch Strategic Priorities for Peace

March 09, 2020

DoveAs the coronavirus public health crisis grows increasingly urgent, prominent global actors and institutions, including the United Nations, are wrestling with the realization that all hands on deck are required to address the cross-cutting global challenges we face. The latest disease pandemic is but one of the major global challenges demanding coordinated and effective responses from diverse institutions and civil society networks. Another, income inequality, continues to widen, with the world's richest 1 percent in 2020 holding twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion of the planet's people. And while the political and economic will to combat climate change is needed more than ever, virtually every sovereign state is behind in its commitments to the Paris Agreement.

With communities ravaged by ongoing conflict, a record 70 million people have fled their homes. As calls for change echo across the globe, the percentage of people in 2019 living in countries where civic space is considered "repressed" more than doubled. Things fundamental to securing human dignity — the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, the power to demand change, freedom from any and all forms of discrimination, and the ability to live within and nurture a sustainable environment — are rapidly being eroded. These challenges are striking at a time when multilateralism is threatened, space for civil society is shrinking, and calls for more walls of separation are getting louder.

On a more optimistic note, the opportunity to forge ahead despite the turmoil may well exist within the deepest and broadest infrastructures ever created and sustained by humankind: the world's religious communities, to which 80 percent of humanity claims some affiliation. In recent years, international attention has undeniably been focused on the rise in religiously motivated violence, furthering the focus on religion as (part of) the problem.

Continue reading »

Nostalgia and Social Change

January 29, 2020

Time-machineRecently, I put my finger on a social sector trend that's been lodged in my brain but that I was having a hard time articulating: call it nostalgia.

Let me give you an example.

In many of the conversations I've had over the last year or two, people usually express a clear interest in changing how we engage with social issues and causes. They want to see Americans give more, volunteer more, vote more, or otherwise be more civically engaged, and they have certain expectations about what that looks like and how it should happen.

In many of these conversations, the person I’m speaking with often "benchmarks" the change they'd like to see, and that benchmark often references the past, as in "Derrick, Americans used to give more," or "Derrick, Americans used to know more about the way our political system works." They often cite statistics to back up their point and then will say, in so many words, "We need to return to…" and will launch into a narrative about a time when "we were less polarized as a country," when "people were more willing to help a stranger in need," when there was no "us and them, only we."

Now, it's not my job to argue with people and point out where they might need to rethink some of their ways of looking at things, and I'm not going to do that here.

Instead, I'll share what I often say at this point in those conversations:

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (January 4-5, 2020)

January 05, 2020

5W4htUpm6GwJkWfemfytV4-1024-80Happy New Year! Before you get back to work for real, check out our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

To see what climate change could portend for ordinary Americans, look no further than California, where over the last decade, as the Los Angeles Times' Deborah Netburn writes, "[t]he wildfires were more destructive. The drought was the longest on record. And the storms, when they finally came, unleashed more water than [the] dams could contain."

Fundraising

Ready for another year of fundraising? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks wants to help and has pulled together a list of his favorite fundraising blogs

And fundraising expert Pamela Grow shares eleven things you can do to make 2020 your most successful fundraising year yet.

Giving

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther shares the thinking behind the charitable donations he and his wife, Karen, made in 2019.

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit CEOs Alejandra Castillo, Susan Dreyfus, James Firman, Brian Gallagher, Gail McGovern, and Jonathan Reckford make the case that, after nearly two years of data, the evidence is clear: charitable giving is down, and changes in the 2017 tax law are to blame.

Global Health

There are only eight organizations on charity rating site GiveWell's list of top global charities and one of them is the San Jose-based Fistula Foundation. In a new post on the GiveWell blog, Catherine Hollander updates the organization's work on the foundation, which it continues to consider "a top charity contender."

Health

Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal (with research help from Gabriella Aboulafia) reviews the top developments in health care in 2019 on the fund's To The Point blog. 

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 23-24, 2019)

November 24, 2019

Cornucopia-166186079-592c3f2b3df78cbe7e6c4135And...(long pause)...we're back with our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Democracy

It’s been thirty years since the Berlin Wall fell, inspiring a democratic awakening across Central and Eastern Europe. What lessons does the end of the Cold War offer for the next generation of reformers? On the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Tim Judah reflects on his own experience and talks to activists in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic about where they were in 1989 and their hopes for the future

Diversity

What is "equity offset" and why should you care? Nonprofit AF's Vu Le explains.

Education

On the GrantCraft blog, Anne Campbell, an assistant professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, finds lots to like about Scholarships for Change, a new online resource created by our talented colleagues here at Candid.

Fundraising

If you're still fundraising on bended knee — well, stop it. Social Velocity's Nell Edgington explains why in the new year you need to think about "making your ask from a place of true worthiness, true value, and true equality."

Giving

Effective altruism site GiveWell is offering matching funds to any donor who hears about the organization's work via a podcast ad campaign it is running. Learn more here.

Grantmaking

As she prepares for the next stage of her career in philanthropy, Michelle Greanias, who recently ended her tenure as executive director of PEAK Grantmaking, reflects on what she has learned over the last eleven years.

On the Transparency Talk (Glasspockets) blog, Claire Peeps, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation, explains why its important for a foundation, even a leanly staffed foundation like hers, to keep the door open to all kinds of nonprofits.

Health

Citing research and resources that demonstrate the critical connection between health and rural economic development, Katrina Badger, MPH, MSW, a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Katherine Ferguson, MPA, associate director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG), argue that we need to rethink how we invest in rural America and the way we approach health and equity across its diverse communities.

Nonprofits

Is your nonprofit measuring the things it should be measuring? Is it measuring anything at all? On the Candid blog, Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang and executive director of Launch Cause, walks readers through the five key performance indicators that every nonprofit should be measuring.

Over the last three weeks or so, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has been announcing the winners of its 2019 Impact Awards. Check out these links to learn more about the Emergent Fund, Unbound Philanthropy, the Libra Foundation, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. And congrats to all!

Philanthropy

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy and the author of Giving Fingerprints, regrets the fact that too many donors seem not to understand the importance of the relationships they have (or don't) with the nonprofit organizations they support.

Science/Technology

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, technology fellow Michelle Shevin and Michael Brennan, a program officer in the foundation's Technology and Society program, explain why this is a critical moment for open-source digital infrastructure.

Social Good

Did you know that by 2025, millennials will comprise three-quarters of the American workforce? What are the implications of that for capital providers, asset managers, social enterprise founders, foundations, corporations, and impact funds looking to leverage their assets for social good? On the Alliance magazine blog, Christina Wu, community and impact measurement manager at European Venture Philanthropy Association, shares some thoughts.

That's it for now. Drop us a line at Mitch.Nauffts@Candid.org if you have something you'd like to share. And Happy Thanksgiving to all! We'll be next Sunday with another roundup.

New Report: What Influences Young Americans to Support Social Causes

October 25, 2019

Take-actionClimate change is the number-one issue of concern among young Americans. That's one of seven major findings in the new Influencing Young America to Act 2019 report my colleagues and I released earlier today.

The second report in the Cause and Social Influence initiative I lead examines how the oldest members of Generation Z and the youngest millennials ("young America"), those Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, are influenced by and influence others to take intentional action on social issues and analyzes how those actions coalesce to form a community of support for specific social movements.

Social Issues of Interest

In our research, we define a social issue as an existing situation recognized as being counter to a generally accepted social value that can be mitigated through people working together to deploy community resources to change the situation.

The top five issues of interest to the young America (and the percentage that selected them) are climate change (30 percent), civil rights/racial discrimination (25 percent), immigration (21 percent), healthcare reform (20 percent) and mental health/social services (16 percent).

Social Movements of Interest

In our research, we define a social movement as a group of people working together to support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by a specific issue; the group often is unable to address the issue and achieve a satisfactory resolution without the support of dedicated community activists and constituents.

The top five movements of interest to young America are #MeToo (26 percent), #BlackLivesMatter (26 percent), #AllLivesMatter (24 percent), #HumanRights (24 percent ) and #MedicareForAll (23 percent). (Note that although climate change was the number-one social issue, it did not appear among the top five movements.)

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2019)

September 06, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone, the days are getting shorter, and you're probably feeling the urge for goin'. Before you do, check out some of the posts that were popular with our readers in August. Enjoy!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

Beyond the Dollar: Catalytic Philanthropy = Funds + Leverage

September 02, 2019

Coins-and-seedlingsFor as long as I have been working in the philanthropy field, New Zealand has been regarded domestically, and in international polling, as one of the most generous countries in the world. Based on comprehensive data captured in the Gallup World Poll for the period 2013-2017, last year's CAF World Giving Index placed New Zealand third on the list of most generous countries, behind Indonesia and Australia and ahead of the United States (fourth place) and the United Kingdom (sixth).

Each country is ranked for three behaviors:

  • Helping a stranger
  • Donating money
  • Volunteering time

Historically, these have been the ways we think about charity and philanthropy: giving by way of money or service, either in an immediate sense or, using a vehicle such as a charitable trust, donating money to specific causes or recipients in perpetuity.

Catalytic philanthropy is different, both more sophisticated and more focused on collaboration and measurement of return on investment, and is based on maximizing positive impact. Here is what it means for people and organizations in New Zealand:

1. Catalytic philanthropy represents a new approach to an age-old practice. The term describes the use of influence and leadership to leverage every dollar to the max. For instance, an organization with a corporate social responsibility program (say, an annual campaign in support of a bold-name charity) could be more strategic about increasing the impact of its giving by engaging with government and pressuring it to invest more in the charity’s area of interest, or by working harder with partners to garner more support for the charity.

In 2019, the scale of social need and urgency of the global climate crisis demands that we leverage our ability to give in much more practical and commercial ways than we have before. This is where catalytic philanthropy comes in: going beyond money to bring to bear every resource and partnership available to advance a cause or address a problem.

2. Silos are so twentieth century. The traditional model of philanthropy was adapted from the conduct of dynastic families like the Fords and Rockefellers in the early twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, the transparency demanded of charitable activity, combined with clear-cut social and environment concerns, gives the advantage to philanthropists and organizations that can think laterally and find inventive ways to extend their reach.

An example of this model is Foundation North, which employs what it calls "venture philanthropy" to engage other interested organizations and communities in finding solutions to complex social challenges. No longer is a single charity "responsible" for raising cancer awareness or cleaning the Hauraki Gulf; these days, we understand that we’re all in it together and that answers and funding have to be leveraged from a range of players to create long-term and sustainable impact.

Innovation is key to continually improving the impact philanthropy has on its intended cause or recipient. Under our founder Andrew Barnes' leadership, Perpetual Guardian established its own foundation, enabling donors, including those with more modest resources, to amplify the impact of their giving.

Continue reading »

Ten Years of Millennial Research: What I'd Do Differently

August 16, 2019

MillennialsIt's finally here — the final Millennial Impact Report, the culmination of a decade of research conducted by the Case Foundation and research teams I led into cause behaviors of the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

Any project of that magnitude — we interviewed more than 150,000 millennials, held hours and hours of focus groups, compiled and analyzed reams of data, and wrote volumes of narrative — begs the question: Would we do it all over again?

Absolutely — albeit with some tweaks based on what we've learned.

When we launched the project in 2008 — and over most of the next ten years — making assumptions about millennials seemed to be a favorite pastime of many of the people we interviewed or spoke to. We heard that millennials were lazy and more entitled than any  generation before them. They believed they deserved big salaries right out of college, and when reality hit they moved into their parents' basement (still the most enduring cliché about young Americans in this age group).

Put it all together and you got the biggest assumption of all: there was no way millennials would want to get actively involved in causes.

When we set out to learn about millennials, it wasn't to prove (or disprove) our own assumptions; it was to better understand their real motivations and behaviors. So we designed the research process to be an ongoing journey of discovery. I wouldn't change a thing about that.

But in looking back at our journey, there are some things I wish we had explored further:

Continue reading »

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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