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Can an Evidence-Based Approach Save Philanthropy?

One of the most fascinating debates taking place currently within the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors reflects the tension inherent in embracing evidence-based approaches. Within this debate, the two sectors have challenged the merits of and obsession with formal evaluation outcomes, metrics, and nonprofit effectiveness. For example, see this online discourse between Bill Schambra, a noted philanthropic critic, and Will Miller of The Wallace Foundation in Nonprofit Quarterly.

What should we include in the Philanthropy Canon?

I’ve been working with a team to meet with and mentor community leaders and staff associated with Israel’s first community foundation. The community foundation, Takdim, is based in Ramat HaSharon (a city comparable to Palo Alto) and officially launched in May 2011. The story behind this effort is fascinating and signals the potential shift in philanthropic culture in Israel (the Center for the Study of Philanthropy at the Hebrew University calculates charitable giving at 0.74% of GDP in comparison to the 2.1% in the United States). Two interesting articles about the new community foundation, its challenges and opportunities are available here and here.

As part of my work with Takdim, I was asked to provide a landscape overview of philanthropy in the United States. I took that as an opportunity to focus on some core concepts around best practices in grantmaking and emerging issues affecting charitable giving and philanthropic efforts. But, I also wanted to provide Takdim with a list of seminal articles, essays, books, and blog posts that have been pushed over the past ten years (in the end I extended it out to 12 years) – in essence, an informal canon on philanthropy.

The Challenges in Scaling Growth of Nonprofits

Scaling growth, whether in nonprofits or social benefit enterprises, continues to generate attention and buzz. The underlying concepts behind scaling growth are not new. But scaling growth has gained further traction in recent years as the philanthropic and social investment sectors have increased their focus on improving and documenting organizational effectiveness, developed new collaborative funding models to address systemic problems, and supported individual donors’ interests in maximizing the impact of their charitable giving and social investments. Efforts like the Social Capital Markets conference (SOCAP), the Social Impact Exchange, the Social Innovation Fund, Investing in Innovation (i3), and Social Impact Bonds, all touch on or extend the parameters of the scaling growth dialogue.

An upcoming event (link) on scaling growth of nonprofits with William Foster, Bridgespan Group Senior Partner and incoming Executive Director of the Jacobson Family Foundation, continues this dialogue. Sponsored by UpStart Bay Area, the Foundation Center, and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, this event will build on Foster’s decade of primary research and client work. The discussions will focus on what nonprofits need to do in order to achieve scale, how their program models relate to their funding models, and philanthropy's central role and common failings in helping nonprofits scale.

Time to reboot the Council on Foundations

Earlier this month Steve Gunderson announced his intention to resign his position as President and CEO of the Council on Foundations, effective September 1. The pending leadership offers the Council an opportunity to again recast its focus and mission (again). Hopefully, the new change will position the organization to take risk and exhibit leadership in the philanthropic sector.

Scaling Social Impact and Innovative Health Organizations

We are on the eve of the second Social Impact Exchange conference which will be held June 15 - 16. The conference last year, which was covered by Geri Stengel of Ventureneer and myself, focused on defining scaling organizational growth to increase social impact while presenting discussions on developing growth capital systems and the need for philanthropic collaborations. A summary of the conference coverage is available here. Geri will again host the blog coverage for the conference, which can also be tracked on Twitter under the hashtag #SIEX2011.

Do Donors and Social Impact Investors Need to Use Exit Plans?

The launch of Charting Impact represents one more tool in helping donors and foundations make smarter charitable and investment decisions. We’ve seen the growth of the rating organization, like Charity Navigator and GuideStar, move the needle away from solely presenting financial metrics to the coupling these metrics with analysis of outcomes and impact. We’ve also identified the continued need to simplify information – specifically for donors – who do not have a general inclination to spend a tremendous amount of time researching where to possibly distribute their resources (see “Money for Good” report (PDF)).

These trends are all good and point to a day when real-time data and analysis will help the philanthropic and social capital investments communities better align their support with organizations that can significantly create positive social benefit. But, there’s one area where I’ve seen little discussion and which I want to tackle in this post.

Is a Quiet Grants Management Revolution Underway?

One of the most interesting discussions during the Grants Managers Network (GMN) conference focused on the evolution of grants management software. Admittedly, this might not seem like the most exciting subject. But grants management software has a tremendous impact on how foundations review proposals and process their grant awards. And based on the discussions that took place at the GMN conference this week, a big change is about to happen – the only true question is whether this change will occur within two to three years or within five years.

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.