Adin Miller's blog

A Few Observations from the Grants Managers Network 2011 Conference

Below are a few observations from the recently completed annual conference of the Grants Managers Network (GMN).

Social media use continues to grow within the grants management community. But it also reflects the ongoing challenges grantmakers have in embracing social media for their work. Issues commonly voiced at the conference focused on how to best use social media as a funder, loss of the control over communication message, and challenges around internally managing social media demands. Not surprisingly, these concerns also were voiced at the Communication Network conference earlier in 2010 (see this link for all the posts published during and after the conference).

Building a Best Practice for Foundations Assessing Social Media

I’ve spent the past few days at the annual conference of the Grants Managers Network (GMN) and will publish two other posts about the conference. 

My first post though focuses on the grantmaking organizations and social media. Much as been written about foundations that use social media to communicate and outreach. But, very little has been written about how grantmaking organizations apply due diligence to social media use by their grant seekers and grant recipients. Due diligence in philanthropy reflects the funder’s efforts assess an organizations fiscal position, organizational effectiveness, leadership, and capacity to implement a specific grant. So, let’s build the best practice approach to this subject.

In building this best practice, funders can research both an organization’s footprint and behavior within social media platforms, and assess its strategies and capacity through its internal documents.  To keep this simple I have listed twenty key questions a funder should be asking when examining social media activities of an organization its researching. I’ll break these questions into external (i.e., things we can answer by simply researching online) and internal questions (i.e., things that we can only answer by getting information directly from the organization being researched).

How to Create Social Good with March Madness

March Madness. Each year I usually participate in several pools with friends from across the country. Creating a bracket is a bit of a challenge for me, since I hardly pay attention to college basketball at any point leading up to March. That’s definitely the case now, since I’ve had even less time this year to read anything about college basketball.

Building a Knowledge Base for the Scaling Social Impact Field

Scaling social impact – defined as focusing on increasing philanthropic and capital investments in scaling effective social programs – continues to evolve at a high speed. New growth capital opportunities, development of capital aggregation systems, and an expanding role for capital intermediaries are only a few examples of the evolution of the sector. To help inform the evolution of the sector, the Social Impact Exchange has convened a number of small working groups to further develop an understanding of scaling social impact and increase coherence in the field. The working groups engage members of the Social Impact Exchange in specific project related to scaling impact and in identifying scale ready programs for growth funding.

Increasing Donor Engagement and Embracing Impact Grantmaking

The evolution of philanthropy – with its continued embracement of metrics, outcome measurements and impact, and data – has also seen a growing emphasis on developing new ways to engage donors. Philanthropic organizations, especially those in intermediary roles, are redefining their relationships with donors. Many of them recognize the growing number of active and engaged donors who want to do more than just to write a check; they are looking for opportunities to make an impact in a more dimensional way and want more intensive engagement opportunities. To meet that need, some organizations are providing donors with more guidance and resources to make better informed charitable giving decisions, or even offering opportunities to engage in impact investing.

This trend has made its way into the federation system. Per the Jewish Federations of North America, the federation system represents 157 Jewish federations and 400 network communities, and raises and distributes more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. That places it“collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent.” Given its immense scope, there is tremendous potential to provide a wider vision of how to generate impact, and model the ability to evolve, adapt, and support new opportunities.

Can the Jewish Federation system embrace Disruptive Philanthropy?

I’m currently attending the annual gathering of Jewish community federations and affiliated communities. The gathering, known as the General Assembly (GA), focuses on issues critical to North American Jewry, Jews abroad, and the State of Israel. As explained by the Jewish Federations of North America, the system’s umbrella organization, the federation movement “represents 157 Jewish Federations and 400 Network communities, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs” placing it “collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent.” In a very rough foundation analogy, that would a foundation with roughly $60 billion in assets.

That’s big; really big. And yet, the federation movement is struggling with declining donor bases, growing local community needs, and challenges to implementing effective philanthropic strategies. So, yesterday’s session on “Disruptive Philanthropy” with Diana Aviv (President and CEO, Independent Sector), Jeffery R. Solomon (President, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies), and Brian A. Gallagher (President and CEO, United Way Worldwide), promised to provide an interesting barometer of how the federation movement is embracing (or resisting) change in its grantmaking approaches.

From the Social Media Toolbag: ComNet010 on Twitter

When the Twitter hashtag for the Fall 2010 Communications Network  / CommA Conference was announced a few weeks ago, I set up the ComNet010 hashtag on What the Hashtag?! While I use any number of tools during a conference to track discussion on Twitter, What the Hashtag?! provides several functions that I really appreciate. Foremost, it allows users to generate a transcript for tweets using the correct hashtags (sadly, none of the search services can pick up on hashtags that have additional characters added to them, such as the end quotation mark that now shows up when you “quote” a post on Twitter). It also provides some statistics on the extent of the Twitter conversation.

Can Philanthropy Truly Embrace the Wisdom of Crowds?

The Fall 2010 Communications Network  / CommA Conference (ComNet010) began this morning with a presentation by James Surowiecki, author of the Balance Sheet column for the New Yorker and the book The Wisdom of Crowds, on  finding better answer and solutions through a focused efforts to engage group intelligence. The session was an excellent way to engage the audience – mostly communication personnel in philanthropic institutions – in a in-person and Twitter discussion about the potential power of using crowds to inform decision making and organizational vision. It also raised a lot of questions.

Translating the Philanthropy and Social Capital Market Sectors – a ComNet010 and SOCAP10 Cross-post

Over the next week I’ll be attending and blogging two very different conferences: the Fall 2010 Communications Network Conference (ComNet010) and the 2010 Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP10). ComNet010, a partnership between the Communications Network and CommA, attracts an audience primarily of foundation communication personnel. SOCAP10 attracts an audience of investors, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, philanthropies, and donors.

One could presume that these conferences have nothing to do with each other. And, for the most part, that’s probably accurate. ComNet010 will have sessions focused on the power of stories to change lives, using crowdsourcing to find better answers and solutions from groups, and using entertainment to advance social change. SOCAP10 will have sessions focused on impact investments, alternative and innovative social financing, harnessing mobile technology for social enterprise, and value-driven allocation of philanthropic resources will have sessions on accessing social investment markets. Interestingly, both will have sessions focused on how to inspire and engage individuals to give or invest more.

However, the two conferences do share some common challenges: how to best communicate your work to an uninformed audience and how to explain complex technical approaches simply without getting sucked into a vortex of jargon. I wrote a while back on the importance of philanthropy embracing transparency. In my opinion, an adherence to transparency and simplified communication needs to apply to the social capital markets and philanthropy sectors as well in order to make the sectors easier to understand and access for a lay audience.

SOCAP10 - Can the Social Innovation Fund tap into the impact investment market?

Last week the SOCAP10 producers announced the winner of the SOCAP10 Impact Challenge, a competition launched in July. The competition, designed by SOCAP, Triple Pundit and Myoo Create, challenged competitors to address the “Money for Good” report (PDF) by Hope Consulting and “explore what’s next in social enterprise” in 500 words. Kyle Westaway’s post was selected by the SOCAP10 producers as the winner for which he was awarded a complementary pass to the conference.

Kyle’s post suggested that there is an opportunity tap into the $120 billion impact investment market by directing individual investments into social enterprises. Specifically, he proposed leveraging Low Profit Limited Liability companies (LC3s) that would offer two avenues for capital: one targeting philanthropic institutions and the other targeting the individual investors at the heart of the Money for Good report.  For the philanthropic avenue, he recommended scaling up the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) through additional government funding and philanthropic donations.  That scaling up would provide the SIF with an additional $200 million from the federal budget and another $250 million from private donors who have taken the Billionaire Pledge.