142 posts categorized "Web 2.0"

Evaluating the Impact of Social Media: Are We Wasting Our Time?

June 27, 2012

(Claire Gibbons, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a senior program officer in the Research & Evaluation Unit at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She spends most of her time managing R&E projects for the foundation's Quality/Equality team. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Claire_gibbonsLast month Steve Downs and I discussed some of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) experiences using social media and our first steps toward evaluating the impact of RWJF's social media use in a webinar for Council on Foundation members (you can view the slides here). In response to our evaluation discussion, a webinar participant asked whether it makes any sense to evaluate something as spontaneous and fun as social media. This was also a question raised by Allison Fine in her blog.

Allison expresses concern that a logic model "misses the essence of what makes social media so unique, the serendipity and fun that are essential parts of 'being' social." This is an interesting and valid question -- by creating a stodgy old logic model do we defeat the purpose of social media?

Before I share some thoughts on this question, let me describe briefly what we've been doing at RWJF. The staff at the foundation is using social media, and many are enthusiastic about its potential to increase our impact, but until recently no one had sat down to elicit exactly what we expect social media to accomplish. In fact, we engaged in a fairly lengthy period of discussion and experimentation before we began to plan for evaluation. One of RWJF's initial steps was to form a working group to consider how the foundation could best take advantage of Web 2.0 tools, and what it would mean for the foundation if it did use these tools. This working group released a report internally to all foundation staff in December 2009, and we began a period in which all staff was strongly encouraged to experiment with social media. (Just signing up for Twitter and listening to the conversation by following others was encouraged, for example.) A second Web 2.0 group was formed after some time passed that was charged with getting some sense of whether RWJF was moving forward with its use of social media and sharing lessons across program areas. It was at this point that we began to focus our attention on evaluation.

We decided that the first step in evaluating our use of social media should be to develop a logic model. With the help of consultant Victoria Dougherty, we did this based on interviews with staff that were knowledgeable and involved in our social media efforts and on a review of documents about our social media philosophy.

Then we created a logic model to help evaluate the impact of our social media use.


Click for a PDF version »

The logic model has two pathways: the first describes how RWJF can approach its work over the next five years and the second describes some of the outcomes of the work. For the foundation to realize the potential of social media and eventually reach its long-term goals for being a more effective agent of change and a connector and facilitator that spurs broad participation in our work, it must first position itself as a Web 2.0 organization and work to become more open and nimble. Social media use may also lead to creating new connections outside the walls of the foundation and in turn lead to a greater ability to gather information from a broad network that can result in more effective programming. (See my earlier blog post for a more in-depth discussion of our logic model.)

So, back to our earlier question: Does creating a logic model to drive an evaluation of the impact of social media use defeat the whole purpose of social media?

I don't think so. But I'm pretty sure you guessed I was going to say that, given that I'm a research and evaluation officer! So let me share my thinking.

  1. Yes, social media in many cases is driven by spontaneity. Videos that go viral on YouTube are completely driven by spontaneous interest. But not all social media use is purely spontaneous. We believe that social media can be used strategically to further our programmatic goals. That means we can plan ahead to use a social media tool or tools. For example, staff at the foundation used a virtual forum to create an open platform for discussion and idea-gathering about teen dating violence prevention. Through the platform, we received thoughtful input from people working in the field, teens who had experienced dating violence and parents who lost a child due to dating violence, and many others. Read more here.

  2. A logic model does not squash innovation -- it describes it. Logic models are made to be broken and expanded and changed over time. The presence of a logic model is not meant to limit anyone's activities to something that happens to be featured in a little box in a diagram. The model doesn't dictate our programming -- it's simply a way to describe what we are doing and what we think the result will be.

  3. RWJF's use of social media in the workplace is predicated on the idea that it will help us achieve our goals. We could be wrong. We won't know if social media is getting us anywhere good, or anywhere good faster, unless we measure some outcomes that we think are related to our programming activities. And one very useful tool for eliciting expected programmatic and policy outcomes is a logic model.

This isn't to say that we think all possible pathways between the use of social media and good outcomes are contained in our logic model. Absolutely not! This is just the best picture we could come up with at this point in time. New tools will become available, and we'll use them. Staff will continue to innovate in ways that we haven't imagined yet, and we welcome that innovation.

We still have a long ways to go in our journey to use social media in a way that helps us reach our strategic objectives -- and in measuring and evaluating our use of social media. We certainly don't have many answers, but I think we're on the right track. What do you think?

-- Claire Gibbons

Not All New Media Is ‘New’ Any More

February 22, 2012

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, an organization of people who work for or on behalf of the nation's grantmakers. A version of this post appears on the Commnetwork blog.)

Hello-my-name-is-new-mediaI'm pretty sure we didn't pop any champagne corks, do fist bumps, or high five each other, but I recall a feeling of exhilaration the first time -- probably in the 1990s -- I pressed the send button on e-mail with an attached PDF version of a report detailing findings from an initiative underwritten by a foundation where I worked. My colleagues and I -- freed from the labor and time-intensive process of distributing print publications -- thought we'd truly entered the digital age. In a blink of an eye, reports of any length could be on their way to key audiences in seconds.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and even though the PDF is still very much with us, that habit of turning reports, white papers, books, policy briefs, and the like into digital facsimiles and e-mailing and posting them online is on its way to being labeled an OLD new media practice.

In fact, just last week, the Center for Digital Information held a roundtable discussion with the title "Beyond the PDF" that showed off some impressive examples of how think tanks, foundations, and policy institutions are taking advantage of the best the new technology has to offer -- interactive graphics and visualizations, mapping tools, online databases, multimedia, and touch-interface smartphone and tablet applications -- to do what Jeff Stanger, the group's executive director, describes as more effectively "injecting” information into public policy debates and other social change discussions.

For anyone who cut his or her teeth in a world where print and print-like products were the gold standards of information dissemination, it takes a moment (sometimes longer) before you realize that a game can actually do a pretty good job of informing people about the challenges of trying to come up with a manageable federal budget or that a cartoon-like presentation can answer the question "How will the affordable health care act affect me?" at least as well, if not better, than traditional text presentations.

Those examples -- and others that detail the differing political beliefs Americans hold, the potential threat to developing countries from climate change, and how Americans cope with high energy costs -- demonstrate that by embracing the power of new digital technologies, we can turn static, often dry data into useful online engagements that hold great promise for thoughtfully informing and advancing public dialogue on topics such as health, education, the environment, the economy, national security, international affairs, and global development.

Another advantage that true digital publications offer is the ability to comprehensively measure the depth of user engagement -- from number of visitors to page views to which information garnered the most attention and interest. It’s far better knowing that people are paying attention to your materials than wondering if they're getting read at all. Still, that level of measurement is no substitute for the higher bar that any material disseminated to influence thinking or behavior must ultimately meet to be judged a success: Did anyone do any thing different as a result? Did they take action?

Ironically, whereas the now (in some quarters) scorned but still ubiquitous PDF offers great efficiency and obvious cost savings over its traditional print counterparts, these newer digitally native products come with both a higher price tag and greater time demands, not to mention the requirement for people with new skills to do the work. It's a fact that shouldn't dissuade us from turning more information products into digitally native forms.

Gabriella Fitz, co-director of IssueLab, a nonprofit that archives, distributes, and promotes the extensive and diverse body of research being produced by the nonprofit sector -- and someone who probably sees more traditional research reports than most people -- agrees that "more and more social cause research should be presented in interactive formats. The fact is that people don't have the time to read forty-page white papers."

But Fitz also worries that the research smaller foundations and nonprofits produce might get ignored "just because they don't have the budget to produce these kind of interactive pieces." And she acknowledges that "a lot of folks default to PDFs because they simply don't have the skills or creative encouragement to do it differently and don't have the money to hire those who do." Still, she's optimistic that "we can work on the skills and the creative encouragement." The money, on the other hand, will probably remain a hurdle too high for some.

On that point, Stanger says organizations doing the research need to take the lead in making the case that the cost of not embracing the new "threatens the vital informational role" of foundations, think tanks, and policy institutions. "In a society increasingly accustomed to information in digital form," he adds, "credibility, authority, and relevance are attributes that will be reserved for research organizations that successfully adopt new interactive forms that are native to digital media."

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

A 'Flip' Chat With...Sarah Durham, Principal and Founder, Big Duck

February 13, 2012

(This video was recorded as part of our 'Flip' chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with Annie E. Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.)

At a recent Foundation Center event, Big Duck founder Sarah Durham explained that her book Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications was written for small nonprofits that do not have the budget to hire an outside consulting group like her New York City-based communications firm.

Yes, the principles behind effective communications are pretty basic. But because most nonprofit leaders aren't well versed in marketing/communications strategy, they often have trouble following through on them, says Durham. For that reason, Brandraising seeks to show executive directors how to raise funds and increase the visibility of their organizations using approaches developed by some of the most successful fundraisers in the country.

Before the event got under way, I had a chance to chat with Durham about the different levels of "brandraising," the role young staff members can play in the strategic planning process, and how Big Duck measures its impact. On that last point, Durham said her colleagues set measurable goals at the start of each project and then, after implementation, sit down with the client to compare notes and see whether they were on target.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)


(Running time: 4 minutes, 1 second)

What do you think? Do you agree with Durham that mobile is "the next big thing"? Has your organization started collecting cell phone numbers? Feel free to share you brandraising success stories in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (January 21-22, 2012)

January 22, 2012

Citizens-united-bigbucksOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Filming at the 20th anniversary INTRAC conference in Oxford, England, Nicetreefilms interviewed Demos senior fellow Michael Edwards, author of Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism (2008) and Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World (2010), about the role and future of civil society via-a-vis business and the public sector.

To mark the second anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that said corporations have the same right as people to spend money in elections, Demos has curated a dozen or so blog posts, articles, policy briefs, and multimedia presentations that highlight the anti-democracy implications of the decision.

Disaster Relief

On the heels of the two-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands in Haiti and left up to a million more homeless, the Adventure Project's Becky Straw spotlights a couple of social enterprises that are using technology to boost the Caribbean nation's economy.


On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz responds to Getting Attention blogger Nancy Schwartz' MLK Day-inspired call for nonprofit bloggers to write about their dreams for the sector by sharing her hopes for the charities she admires: that they do not become stuck in the past; that their fundraising appeals address the big social issues of our day; and that they work to create organizational cultures that value learning, adequately reward hard work, and treasure the people who engage with their causes.

And on her blog, Allison Fine, co-author (with Beth Kanter) of the Networked Nonprofit, says her dream "is for organizational leaders to switch from viewing the world through a lens of scarcity to one of abundance...."

Elsewhere, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar co-author Rosetta Thurman shares eleven tips guaranteed to make your search for a job in the nonprofit sector a successful one.


Writing on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Paul Beaudet, associate director of the Seattle-based Wilburforce Foundation, explains why funders need to stop asking nonprofits to "do more with less."


On his Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta criticizes New York governor Andrew Cuomo for launching a nonprofit "executive pay witch hunt." "Elected officials consistently conflate smart investments in the talent, organizational strength, and long-term planning necessary to address massive social problems with fraud," writes Pallotta. "Why? Because they lack a fundamental understanding of how long-term social problems get solved and because the humanitarian sector has been too terrified to stand up to them."

Social Media

And Social Media for Social Good author Heather Mansfield explains why Pinterest, a new invitation-only social networking site that allows users to create virtual "pinboards," is worth your nonprofit organization's time.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- The Editors

Becoming a "Web 2.0 Philanthropy"

January 18, 2012

(Steve Downs is chief technology and information officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets blog.)

Steve_Downs_RWJFThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, like many philanthropies today, has embraced social media. We have a Facebook page, YouTube channels, blogs, and multiple official Twitter feeds. Our staff also participate directly: more than forty of my colleagues are regular Twitter users and many have contributed blog posts to popular sites within their fields. Our CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey (@risalavizzo), sets the tone with her regular activity on Twitter.

Like many philanthropies, we're still finding our way and doing our best to learn from our collective experiences and from the experiences of others. For RWJF, engagement in social media is rooted in a context -- a context about who we are as an organization and what we seek to become.

The first part of that context comes from our history with transparency. Since RWJF's beginnings, we have emphasized independent evaluation of our programs. As David Colby (@DavidCColby) and his colleagues have detailed, RWJF chose to make public the results of those evaluations so others could learn whether the interventions had (or had not) been effective. In addition, since 2007, we have made public an annual assessment that examines a number of dimensions of our organizational performance. (You can download the reports from our Web site.)

The second part starts in 2008, when RWJF underwent a strategic planning exercise where we began by looking at the world around us. We saw innovations in philanthropy coming from newer, smaller foundations like the Steve and Jean Case Foundation and Omidyar Network that were leveraging new technologies to cast a wider net, stimulate conversation, and engage people more widely. We saw new models for the sector such as Kiva and DonorsChoose -- platforms that enabled more direct connections between donors and their impact. And we also saw the amazing, disruptive accomplishments of services like Wikipedia and craigslist that were run by organizations employing only a few dozen staff but drawing their power from vast networks of engaged users. We came away from this effort with a sense -- still impressionistic -- that we should explore what it would mean for us to become a "Web 2.0 philanthropy."

"Web 2.0" is becoming an archaic term as it is supplanted by the term "social media," but for us the distinction has meaning. Where "social media" is often associated with services like Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, we see Web 2.0 as running deeper. It is the collection of tools that harness the collective creativity and knowledge of -- and promote interaction among -- the Web's many users. It is based on an "architecture of participation," which enables the users of a service to add value to that service. Beyond social media, it can be expressed in many ways, ranging from the user who improves on a cooking magazine's recipe by adding an unexpected spice to the protester during the Arab Spring posting a cell phone video of a beating on YouTube for the world to see. It is the seller-rating system of eBay, in which the experiences of hundreds of other buyers give a potential buyer confidence in the seller. It is about the blurring of the lines between producer and consumer, between expert and non-expert, and the aggregation of many small contributions into something of great value.

We knew that as a relatively large and middle-aged foundation (we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year) with traditions, habits and engrained practices, we would have to consciously push ourselves to evolve in this direction. We needed first to flesh out the vision, which we did through a combination of research (i.e., small "r" research like reading case studies and talking with folks at other organizations) and experiential learning. Those of us tasked with working on the vision felt we couldn't do so unless we were actively engaging in Web 2.0 experiences, so we started experimenting with Twitter and Facebook -- and experiencing their cultures and value to our day-to-day work. It wasn't long before we concluded that becoming a Web 2.0 philanthropy was not so much about adopting new social media than it was about embracing the underlying values of Web 2.0 and weaving them into our work. To that end, we homed in on three principal values:

  • Openness, at one level, implies transparency -- letting others see into the organization and how it works. But in Web 2.0, openness goes beyond organizational transparency and represents humility and a willingness to learn, to be surprised, and to hear and accept criticism.
  • Participation refers to a style of engagement in the professional communities of which we are a part. It requires asking questions, listening, responding, and contributing where we can add value -- whether expertise, research and other materials, or connections.
  • Decentralization is a natural consequence of distributed participation and inherently requires a ceding of some control. So much information is now created and shared collaboratively, and the path and shape that such information takes cannot be controlled by any one entity or group. A tremendous upside of the emergence of Web 2.0, however, is the potential for countless unseen contributors to augment and amplify one's own contributions.

Building on these values, the research and our early experiences, we sketched out a vision of how RWJF could embrace Web 2.0. The vision included a number of elements, ranging from using social media to be better informed about our fields and the work of our grantees, to cultivating networks of people and organizations who care about our issues, to crowdsourcing expertise, to seeking feedback and criticism, to using Web 2.0 principles to design programs that work at very large scale. The vision, along with a strategy to evolve toward it, gave the organization a context and a rationale for our embrace of social media.

One might be tempted to think that with all this Web 2.0 strategy development going on, we approached social media with a deliberate, carefully planned strategy, when in fact we took a much more organic approach. Previous to our Web 2.0 work, we had done some blogging and gotten over the usual jitters about all the things that could go wrong. Later, as a few intrepid staff began testing the waters at Twitter and Facebook, we consciously took a supportive stance. We came up with social media guidelines that, while putting up some guardrails to limit the likelihood of an unfortunate event, actually encouraged staff to experiment and to develop their own individual personalities online. We wanted them to explore how they could provide value, and we wanted to learn from their experiences. The context of our overall push to become a Web 2.0 philanthropy informed the development of our social media guidelines, provided a strong incentive for staff to participate, and, by connecting their participation to a set of values, also influenced how they participated.

We're a couple of years into our journey and we reap the benefits of being more open and engaged every day. Many staff feel as if they're better engaged in their fields, learning more, and expanding their networks. At the same time, this being a journey, it hasn't always been easy. Staff wrestle with where to find the time to engage meaningfully in social media, and being open and engaged often means having to expose what you don't know, which can be uncomfortable. We're also finding that there's a long way between having a vision of how to leverage Web 2.0 to change the world and having the world work like a Wikipedia or a craigslist. Just because you ask people's opinions doesn't mean you'll get them -- sometimes the crowd keeps its wisdom to itself. (My colleague Erin Kelly will speak to some of these challenges in a future post on our social media experience.)

As we continue on this journey, we still have lots to learn -- and we'd love to hear how others are finding success or overcoming obstacles to becoming more open, more participatory, and more decentralized. Has your organization ventured down a similar path and/or embraced social media tools to work in a different fashion? Are you using them to listen or become better informed? Build networks? Service a traditional organizational or "consumer" need in a new manner? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Steve Downs

Wikipedia Goes to College

November 29, 2011

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she chatted with Karen Brown, vice president of programs at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, about the foundation's capacity-building efforts.)

Wikimedia_FdnSince 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation has been quietly going about the business of operating the fifth most visited site on the Internet without trumpeting its own story as one of the most successful volunteer organizations in the world.

With 20 million volunteer-authored articles in over 282 languages, the foundation has taken the old-fashioned volunteer effort online and achieved a scale for Wikipedia, its biggest and most successful project, that few people in traditional nonprofit circles would dare to imagine. For those in the sector focused on impact, the numbers are impressive. According to a Pew survey, 53 percent of adult American Internet users visit Wikipedia regularly, and the site boasts more than 400 million user visits a month (the strategic plan calls for topping one billion in 2012). Let's face it, is there any other nonprofit organization in the world that can help you find Lady Gaga's real name (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta ) or tell you how to properly categorize Pluto within seconds of firing up your smartphone?

While the Wikimedia Foundation has grown in recent years, it is still primarily a volunteer enterprise. Headquartered in San Francisco, the 501(c)(3) organization has only 73 full-time employees and, despite a very sophisticated technology infrastructure, an annual operating budget of under $30 million. To maintain and improve its financial position, the foundation has become more aggressive this year about raising additional funds. Like its volunteer efforts, these initial forays into the world of fundraising have been models of efficiency and innovation. Indeed, the foundation's first online fundraiser last year netted some $15 million in just fifty days.

Continue reading »

Funders and Social Media

October 12, 2011

Philanthropy and Social Media (60 pages, PDF), a new report from the London-based Institute for Philanthropy, takes a close look at how funders in the United States and around the world are not only using but investing in social media.

The institute defines social media as any technology that facilitates people-to-people connections. Indeed, as the chart below explains, social media are different from traditional broadcast media, which seek to connect people to information.

Institute chart

The first few pages provide examples of groups that have used social media to enhance their communications and build movements (the It Gets Better project), gather data during times of crises (Ushahidi), give underrepresented groups a voice (Whizz-Kidz), connect people facing similar challenges (Mumsnet), improve communications and service delivery efforts (the Big White Wall), scale up a project or initiative with limited resources (KaBOOM!), fundraise (American Red Cross), and work transparently (charity: water). The report also shares key insights from social media investors -- including their goals in supporting social media projects, the metrics used, and challenges faced -- as well as advice for grantmakers interested in supporting technology projects.

Mayur Patel, vice president of strategy and assessment at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, told the report's authors that

when investing in social media projects, the foundation looks carefully at mission fit and due diligence. This involves investigating broadly whether the potential grantee is open to experimentation within their proposed project, whether they have thought carefully about how they are leveraging social networks in the way they develop digital platforms, and if they have considered how they build a passionate and loyal user community.

Knight acknowledges that it has a responsibility to keep abreast of technological advances. "We try to be an organization that invests at the leading edge of innovation, and to that end we do not want to fund anti-evolutionary activity," said Patel. "The key is to have the right people in-house who are savvy and effective. The ultimate goal is to be as native as we can be, and to keep educating ourselves by immersing ourselves on social media platforms."

The report also offers a list of tips for social media investors drawn from research and interviews with funders and practitioners that includes things like "what to avoid" and "what to measure." On where to start, funders are advised to:

  • Join or create a community of practice and share their experiences;
  • Educate themselves -- speak to people who know;
  • Not expect to know everything: the tools are new and are only just starting to demonstrate their potential and impact;
  • Seek professional support where necessary (but beware of consultants who do not have experience building projects that have actually delivered social impact, and beware of anyone who calls him or herself a social media "guru");
  • Do research. Before trying to create a new campaign or project, find out if there's anyone else already doing it successfully who might be a candidate for an investment;
  • Get your hands dirty. The tools are readily available, and most of them are free!

The report concludes by reminding funders that "this new landscape [is both] complex and challenging."

First, grantmaking organizations may want -- or be obligated -- to deal with these challenges and opportunities themselves, tackling issues of transparency and donor accountability and learning to work in new, networked ways. Beyond that, grantmakers will increasingly find themselves compelled to understand and embrace the fundamental power of these tools and to support the social sector to make the transition to this new world. With the majority of organizations beginning to engage on some level with social media, funders may find that their grantees or potential grantees are far more advanced in the use of these media than they are, and they may be asked to fund activities that they do not fully understand. This reinforces the importance of developing an understanding of these tools, but may seem daunting to those not familiar with the technology....

The challenge for grantmakers then, is to be sufficiently well-informed to make good investments in this emerging field and ensure that the projects that can achieve real impact get the support they need....

Has your foundation supported a social media project? What social media tools do you use to stay informed? And what advice would you give other funders interested in supporting this emerging field? Share you thoughts in the comments section below. 

-- Regina Mahone

Jumo and Some GOOD Unanswered Questions

August 19, 2011

Quesation_mark_button Since we published Brad Smith's post "Jumo: Get Grant, Do Good, Sell" on Wednesday, a lively back-and-forth has been ricocheting around the Twitterverse. Twitter isn't necessarily the best forum for meaningful debate about difficult questions, so we thought we'd curate a few of the questions being raised:

  • @edwarmi: Jumo joining Good - success or failure?
  • @parastou110: @GOOD buys @jumoconnect. Grant to profit. Great, but shouldn't initial donors be offered $ back as part of sale?
  • @rootwork: Have foundations been transformed into angel investors?
  • @ssstrom: Question for foundations: What happens when grants end up as VC?
  • @davidalynn: An entirely different goal for a nonprofit: get bought?
  • @philaction: Is GOOD profitable? What's the difference between a subsidized unprofitable for-profit and a non-profit?
  • @philaction: What's the total lifetime amount of subsidy of GOOD versus Jumo?
  • @philaction: What is FMV [fair-market value]...for an undifferentiated non-profit whose IP is open source?
  • @philaction: How do you negotiate an acquisition when 3rd party gets to set price later?

And one more of our own: Is the Jumo-GOOD merger a one-off, or should we expect to see more of this kind of thing in the future?

Keep those questions and (for the courageous) answers coming.

Jumo: Get Grant, Do Good, Sell

August 17, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about foundations and unsolicited proposals.)

Jumo_Sold ChrisHughes.org has just gone back to being ChrisHughes.com. According to a story in Fast Company, Hughes' Jumo -- a nonprofit portal built with grant funds from some of America's largest philanthropic foundations -- is being acquired by GOOD, which despite its altruistic-sounding name and mission is a for-profit company. Is this what grants are for?

Hughes, described on the Jumo site as "co-founder of Facebook and director of online organizing for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign," became something of a darling in philanthropy circles after he announced his intention to create a "social network that helps people find high-quality nonprofits and take meaningful action." Some foundation professionals jumped in with early funding and were prone to statements like: "If anyone can make the online giving space work, Chris can!"

Did Chris make it work? In a field where metrics are not difficult to come by, the Fast Company article is frustratingly vague with its numbers. Reference is made to "good results" in a recent Jumo campaign to raise money for Somalia. If this is the same campaign for which I received an e-mail, the approach was surprisingly old school and the goal a mere $3,000. Meanwhile, the folks at GlobalGiving have managed to raise $49.6 million for causes around the world. At the end of the day, Hughes' big takeaway from his experience is that the "do-gooder space" (as he calls it) is tough and that "people need carefully curated content if you are going to sustain their interest." Along the way, some offered that advice to Jumo and its supporters but no one seemed to be listening.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (August 13 - 14, 2011)

August 14, 2011

Adirondack_chairs_on_the_beach Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen says that "to get people to read the first lines of [a] report or appeal -- and keep going," your communications must engender curiosity in your readers, for the simple reason that "humans, when...presented with a gap in [their] knowledge...crave to fill it."

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz's Getting Attention blog, Kimberlee Roth shares three questions designed to help marketing professionals overcome writer's block.

Disaster Relief

In a follow-up to an earlier post in which his colleage Josh Rosenberg shared some thoughts on donating to famine relief efforts in Somalia, GiveWell's Elie Hassenfeld says that at this time the organization "maintains [its] provisional recommendation for [donors to support] Doctors Without Borders."


GuideStar president and CEO Bob Ottenhoff recaps a recent summer symposium at the Giving Institute in which panelists Matthew Bishop of the Economist and Patrick Rooney of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University discussed "the impact of the mega-rich on philanthropy."

Two months after the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy launched its Philanthropy's Promise campaign, an effort to get as many large foundations as possible to allocate at least 50 percent of their grant dollars to the needs of marginalized groups and at least 25 percent to high-impact strategies such as advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement, NCRP field associate Christine Reeves explains what the organization means by "marginalized" communities and "high-impact" strategies.

Social Media

On his Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks says that "If you're going to interact with donors [on social media], you need to figure out what they care about. Social media aren't a giant free classroom; they're more like a party. If you go in the way my bank does, trying to educate and inform, you're an irrelevant and annoying party-pooper."

When considering how best to manage one's time using social media, Beth Kanter advises nonprofits to "wait or rather don't jump in deeply with a heavy time investment" into new platforms like Google+. Instead, writes Kanter, it's best to take "an ROI approach to the amount of time that is being spent, especially if you haven't really built up, engaged, and developed relationships with people via your social networks in other places."


On his Buzz Machine blog, Jeff Jarvis shares a video about his forthcoming book, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live.


And on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Jenn Whinnem explains how social media has helped the Connecticut Health Foundation advance its mission while furthering its commitment to transparency.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (July 16 - 17, 2011)

July 17, 2011

Japan_womens_world_cup Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Capacity Building

At Beth's Blog, Paul Connolly of the TCC Group argues that "fortifying nonprofits' fundraising capability" is not a "no-brainer." In fact, new research conducted by the TCC Group on the Packard Foundation's nonprofit capacity-building efforts suggests that while "fundraising capacity is essential...it needs to happen in conjunction with solid leadership and organizational learning."


On the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Nathan Henderson-James, online director at the Leadership Center for the Common Good, commends the Freedom from Fear Award program for its use of social media tools like Twitter to crowd-source nominations for the award. "Not only does this approach have the ability to help expand the potential grant pool beyond those with the most 'insider' knowledge," writes Henderson-James, "[but] it also has the ability to reach potentially deserving grantees from traditionally underserved communities, because those communities tend to be among the most voracious users of social media."


"Never accept a gift that costs your nonprofit more than it's worth," writes Stephen L. Goldstein on the Fundraising Guru blog. "A gift of a collection of ancient coins to a historical museum may be interesting, but impractical to receive because of prohibitive insurance costs. Sometimes, you must say 'No.'"

On her About.com blog, Joanne Fritz shares findings from the most recent installment of Blackbaud's Index of Charitable Giving, which found that "charitable organizations experienced an uptick in donations in May to the tune of 11.3 percent."


On his Nonprofit Board Crisis blog, Mike Burns shares a few thoughts about effective nonprofit board governance.

Amy Ellsworth and Lisa Spalding of the Philanthropic Initiative wonder what a new foundation board member is to do when he/she observes "a number of bad behaviors that have become normalized." "How do you approach a difficult subject? How do you determine the best people to talk to?" ask Ellsworth and Spalding. Have you ever been around a situation like the one they describe? What's your advice? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Guest blogging on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation reflects on the challenges and opportunities facing program officers, many of whom are well positioned to facilitate collaboration among nonprofits working to address the same problem.

In a three-part series on the Philanthropy Potluck blog, the Minnesota Council on Foundation's Chris Murakami Noonan shares insights from program officers at MCF member organizations, including some of their pet peeves with respect to the grant application process, tips on how to get on a PO's good side, and general advice for development officers.

On Kris Putnam-Walkerley's Philanthropy 411 blog, Richard Woo of the Russell Family Foundation explains why it's important for foundations to frame their "grants, programs, and initiatives" around "the relevance of those offerings and the nature of our relationship with the community." Writes Woo:

What if we offered a grant and no one wanted it?

We must emphasize our relationships even as we deliver grants, programs, and initiatives. When we pay as much attention to authentic relationship development as we do to program development -- there is a greater chance of becoming relevant. Relationships are boundless, programs are finite.


On the Idealist.org blog, Jeremy MacKechnie lists a number of new Web sites that have adopted the Groupon model to promote social good.

While tools like Visual.ly make it easy for organizations to "show" their data, "You still need to know what kind of data representation (picture) helps make what kind of point," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. "No doubt about it, a picture is worth 1000 words. Especially if it shows us something we can't see in the raw numbers or raw words, shows relationships we wouldn't otherwise find, or sparks new questions. If not, it's just a cool picture."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Weekend Link Roundup (July 9 - 10, 2011)

July 10, 2011

Sunflower_partial Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

The Createquity Arts Policy Library has been revived, with new posts from the library's three fellows -- Aaron Andersen, Jennifer Kessler, and Crystal Wallis -- who take an in-depth look at research on our "cultural rights"; informal arts; and the impact of arts education.


On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen explains why listening is the "most underrated skill in the world." Writes Andresen, "The most successful people in the world are all great listeners….They're so good at hearing, they don't just listen to the words being said by others, they also grasp the meaning beneath those utterances. They therefore understand what people want, and they build great companies, amazing nonprofits, and terrific agencies based on that knowledge."

Community Improvement/Development

On his Inside Philanthropy blog, Todd Cohen makes a case for the creation of pooled funds to help nonprofits across the country struggling to make ends meet. "After the economy broke down nearly three years ago, organizations and individuals in some communities stepped up and created pooled funds to support basic and emergency services that nonprofits provide to people in need," writes Cohen. "The creation of those funds reflected true leadership and commitment, and can be a model for establishing funds to provide the operating support that nonprofits desperately need now."

After the Wall Street Journal suggested in a lengthy article that ran over the Fourth of July weekend that the deep-pocketed Kresge Foundation was rethinking its efforts to revive the fortunes of Detroit after run-ins with Mayor Dave Bing and City Hall officials, Jonathan Oosting reports in Mlive.com that the foundation has no plans "to withdraw financial support for either the Detroit Works Project or Woodward Light Rail line."


Idealist.org's Julia Smith, whom we spoke with in May as part of our "social media for social good" video series, has a few tips for jobseekers interested in "green" jobs.


On his Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks shares some reservations about mobile giving campaigns. "Unless you're the Red Cross and have the First Lady and every other celebrity pushing it for you," says Brooks, "the potential is painfully low."


Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan takes a closer look at the new Daring to Lead report (18 pages, PDF), which found that 67 percent of nonprofit leaders "plan to leave" their jobs in the next five years. Over the past ten years, the Daring to Lead series, which is produced by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, has predicted a "'wave' of impending transitions in leadership," writes Buchanan. But while the percentage in the 2011 report is "a high number…experience seems to suggest a significant gap between the survey results…and what actually happens."


On the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Darin McKeever of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation describes how the foundation came up with a new strategy for its Charitable Sector Support initiative.


Guidestar's Bob Ottenhoff says "it's time to change which kind of organizations are eligible for a tax exemption." College booster clubs and big football bowls are just a couple of the types of organizations that should have their status revoked, says Ottenhoff. To help address the nation's budget crises, Ottenhoff also suggests cutting back tax expenditures: "deductions -- or loopholes -- that lower tax obligations, thereby reducing the amount of revenue going to the Treasury...."

Social Media

On her Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog, Heather Mansfield has a few tips for nonprofits that are ready to think globally. Writes Mansfield: "The world is getting smaller with each passing day, and nonprofits as the agents of social good, should try to think bigger and stretch their Twitter wings beyond their own time zones."

The launch last week of the Google+ social networking platform generated a fair amount of comment in the nonprofit blogosphere. On the NTEN blog, Amy Sample Ward shared a few thoughts about the platform's privacy settings and how the site might benefit nonprofit professionals and their organizations, while Zoetica co-founder Geoff Livingston warned that yet another new social networking site means nonprofits will be encouraged to "spread the peanut butter a little thinner" instead of focusing "on the networks that have the most impact on their community."

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Facing the Future: Millennial Philanthropy

June 03, 2011

(Reilly Kiernan is most of the way through a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about graduating into one of the worst job markets in recent history.)

Millenium-generation Before I started working at the Foundation Center, the word philanthropy conjured up a particular image in my head: rich (usually white) men of a certain age who’d made millions of dollars in business and could afford to give, on a large scale, to charities and institutions of their choosing.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned during my fellowship here is that philanthropy is much more complicated and dynamic than that. Generational change, economic disruption, globalization, and technological developments have all contributed to the emergence of a more global and collaborative philanthropic sector.

In a recent guest post at the Social Citizens blog, Andrew Ho, manager of global philanthropy for the Council on Foundations, argued that the "acceleration" of global philanthropy is very much linked to the rise of the Millennial generation:

It is no coincidence that the rise of global philanthropy mirrors the growth of the Millennial generation. Millennials are more connected, cognizant, and committed to tackling society’s ongoing challenges of a global scope than any generation before them....

Ho's post is one in a series leading up to the June 22nd Millennial Donor Summit, a virtual conference dedicated to the role Millennials will play in philanthropy over the next few decades. The conference is "for the nonprofit leaders and professionals who want to know new methods to involve Millennials; new technologies to increase engagement of Millennials in a cause; new approaches to raising support while spreading messages...."

In thinking about how my generation approaches philanthropy differently than previous generations, I came up with a list of three ways Millennials are changing the face of the field:

1. Everyone can participate. Millennial philanthropy could not be further from my previously uninformed notions of philanthropy as a rich, white man's game. With the influx of younger people into the field, philanthropy is becoming more diverse in terms of gender, race, and geography. And the rise of crowdsourcing as a strategy means you no longer have to be a high-net-worth individual to participate; when crowds are mobilized, every donation counts.

2. We recognize that complex problems call for collaborative solutions. As Ho notes in his post, my generation increasingly identifies with the concept of global citizenship. Thanks to the globe-spanning Internet and satellite communications, we're more aware of the world around us than our parents and grandparents may have been, and we are fully aware of the depth of the challenges that confront us. The same technologies that feed and reinforce our global identity also make it possible for us to work with our contemporaries in other countries to find solutions to the problems we face. We talk to each other through social media, including virtual networks like the Nonprofit Millennials Bloggers Alliance and OnlyUp. We get involved in advocacy efforts on Jumo and Facebook Causes. We love to volunteer and aren't afraid to collaborate. We use aggregator technologies like Idealist.org, Kickstarter, and Sparked to amplify our individual voices and impact. And we are eager to use Web-based platforms to tackle inefficiencies and lower transaction costs.

3. "Social" drives our participation. For many members of my generation, the things we care about in terms of philanthropy are integral to our social lives. As "digital natives," it's only natural that our passions are reflected in our social media profiles and networks. As Sarah Koch, manager of Nonprofit Services at Facebook Causes, explained at a recent Foundation Center event, being able to say you "like" a nonprofit is just as important as being able to list your favorite movies, books, or foods. For me, including links to my favorite charities and discussions about social issues is just as important to my personal online identity as the pictures I share with friends. The upshot is that young people in the field are completely transparent about the issues and passions that move and engage them. The potential for that to spark action is tremendous.

In his post, Ho writes, "Global philanthropy is no longer only writing a check or making a grant and sitting back to wait for the results -- it is becoming much more involved than that. Global philanthropy is drawing from the best of the sectors, and collaborating to find solutions." I'd like to believe my generation is uniquely poised to take up the challenge.

-- Reilly Kiernan

Weekend Link Roundup (May 21 - 22, 2011)

May 22, 2011

Education_definition_highlight Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On his Harvard Business Review blog, Uncharitable author Dan Pallotta announces the launch of a new advertising firm, Advertising for Humanity, that hopes to market "benevolence as brilliantly as Budweiser markets beer."


Back from the Center for Effective Philanthropy's annual conference, the Wallace Foundation's Ed Pauly reminds grantmakers that a "passion for results is what's behind every grant, every initiative, and every philanthropic foundation." To that end, when a tool (e.g., strategy, feedback from grantees, performance assessment) fails to deliver impressive results, it's time to "recognize that it didn't work -- and get the facts to build a better strategy." Writes Pauly:

When your first foundation performance assessment doesn't illuminate anything, recognize that the lights are still off -– and put a brighter flood lamp on the facts. When your grantee feedback is awful, zero in on the bleakest spots and the facts that will help you work with your grantee partners more effectively.

Our passion needs facts about our results. Are we making a difference yet? Have we learned how to work successfully with our grantee partners? Are we reducing poverty yet? Try a solution, and then get the facts to find out what happened....

International Affairs/Development

On Thursday, Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi announced that, after two years and four months, they were ending their Aid Watch blog to "free up...time for writing longer and more substantive pieces, both academic and non-academic, on development."

On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Jessica Majno of Bridging the Divide responds to Kelly Kleinman's May 3 op-ed in which Kleinman advised nonprofits to steer clear of initiatives that attempt to reinvent the nonprofit model. Contrary to Kleinman's advice, writes Majno, "in the field of foreign assistance, it is exactly the failure to reinvent and adapt to changes in technology and the social landscape that is diminishing nonprofits' ability to serve their intended beneficiaries and that is threatening to render them irrelevant...."


In the third in a series of posts on the Knight Foundation blog, Elise Hu, digital editor of the Impact of Government project at NPR, shares eight things nonprofit news organizations are doing to boost their revenue.


On NCRP's Keeping a Close Eye blog, Christine Reeves recaps a recent Hudson Institute event in which the panelists shared their views on likely changes in the global philanthropic landscape over the next decade. GlobalGiving co-founder Dennis Whittle, one of the panelists, said that "the practice of affluent Westerners with power (grantmakers) determining how to frame and approach philanthropic problems, solutions, funding strategies and evaluation metrics will be supplanted by the practice of voices and ideas of people affected by problems and solutions (the beneficiaries of grants)."


The Nonprofiteer's Kelly Kleinman wonders whether we're asking the right question in the charitable deduction debate. "The tax code is designed to provide the government with resources to do its job," writes Kleinman. "Its job, among other things, is to provide essential services to citizens who cannot provide those services for themselves; and the more money it collects, the more services it can provide. What's important is that those services get provided, not that they get provided by the sector that happens to employ the Nonprofiteer...."

Writing on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz considers some of the ways in which the regulatory landscape for nonprofits is shifting and sees in them a potential set of "new rules for a new social economy."

Social Media

NTEN's Amy Sample Ward explains the difference between crowdsourcing and community-sourcing and why both can be "valuable for the success of your campaign or call to action."

And at the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Social Philanthropy blog, Derek Lieu discusses the Rasmuson Foundation's foray into Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world where it has created a floating digital museum that displays works created by Rasmuson-funded artists.

That's all for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at [email protected]. And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

Talking Philanthropy: Holly Ross, Executive Director, Nonprofit Technology Network

April 04, 2011

Holly-ross_cropped In the latest installment of our monthly podcast series, hosts Larry Blumenthal and Bill Silberg talk to Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) chief Holly Ross about how philanthropic organizations are harnessing technology to more effectively pursue their goals. Larry and Bill spoke to Holly at NTEN's recent -- and very busy -- annual conference in Washington, D.C.


Running time: 00:11:06

(Right-click to download mp3)

Is your organization experimenting with new technologies such as GPS or video? What have you found are the value-adds? Any lessons learned along the way that might help others?

Do you have a topic you'd like to hear Larry and Bill address? Let us know in the comments section below, or drop us a line at [email protected].

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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