Archives for category: philanthropy

One terrific benefit of working in the philanthropic sector is the opportunity to attend the Council on Foundations’ annual meeting. This major event invariably brings together significant thinkers who share their learning and insights with foundations, which are a key part of the social sector and arguably one of the most important leverage points. This year we will be in San Francisco.

I had the good fortune this year to be invited to play a role in the planning of this conference, serving as a member of the “Civil Society Working Group.” I have no idea how I ended up with this group of people, which includes some real leaders in the field, mentors, and people I have admired for years.

We were tasked with developing a series of breakout sessions that focused on how civil society can more productively work and be supported by philanthropy.

I’m particularly excited to be moderating one of the sessions:

Philanthropy’s Role in Free Speech, Press, and Religion

2015-annual-civil-iconThe recent Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris reminded us across the globe of the democratic values we enjoy and must protect in a civil society. In addition, these events remind us of the ongoing need for civil discourse that allows disparate ideologies to have voice. What is philanthropy’s role to ensure open speech, inclusion of ideological and religious differences, privacy, and the right to assemble?

Discussants on this topic will be:

  • Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice
  • Eboo Patel, founder and president, Interfaith Youth Core
  • Abdi Soltani, executive director of ACLU NorCal

If you are coming to the meeting, join me at 11:15 am on Sunday, April 26 for this session! We will be in the Yerba Buena Ballroom, Salon 1/2, Lower B2 Level.

 

I’m delighted to announce the publication of a new report, a joint effort by the Kettering Foundation and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), of which I am the author. Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability: A Relationship of Respect and Clarity explores how the field of organized philanthropy might think about responding to a growing movement for accountability and transparency.

Philanthropy_and_the_Limits_of_Accountability_FINAL_pdf__page_1_of_20_The report is available as a free PDF download from PACE, where the paper is described like this: “The paper grew out of a conversation we began with PACE members over year ago about how the issues of transparency and accountability might soon impact the field of philanthropy. PACE and Kettering convened three roundtables of philanthropic and non-profit leaders, and talked to dozens more one-on-one. This report is a distillation of what we heard and the issues that were raised.”

I am proud to have worked on this important research. An early preview of our findings, published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy a few weeks ago in an article by me and PACE executive director Chris Gates, outlines the main points:

    • Philanthropy is at a crossroads as it experiences increased pressure from all sides to solve public problems and to be more accountable for outcomes.
    • Transparency may be a necessary component of accountability, but it is not sufficient and too often may be obfuscating.
    • Strategic philanthropy may paradoxically tend to make philanthropic organizations seem less accountable and more risk averse.
    • Accountability isn’t just about data transparency. It’s also about relationships.

Download Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability here.

kf_pace_logos

In partnership with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), the Kettering Foundation has been working for the past year or so on a report looking at the civic dimensions of the “accountability movement” as it relates to organized philanthropy. I have been the main researcher in this work, which has involved a series of conversations with leaders in the social sector. That report, Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability: a Relationship of Respect and Clarity, will be released very soon and will be available at the PACE website.

For now, though, I am delighted to announce a preview of the findings that appears in the form of an article that I co-wrote with my good friend and PACE executive director, Chris Gates, which appears in the most recent Chronicle of Philanthropy. They were kind enough to take it out from behind the subscriber paywall so it is available for the public to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt, edited down from the article:

Foundations Must Rethink Their Ideas of Strategic Giving and Accountability

For decades, foundations have done their work with little pressure to make their operations more open and understandable. Boards have been free to make decisions behind closed doors about what areas they will focus on and what projects and organizations they will fund. . . . But that . . . has been changing. Pressures for increased accountability—the same ones that have affected so many other sectors and to which philanthropy has so far seemed immune—are increasing. . . .

Here are the main findings from our forthcoming report, which will be released this spring . . . .

    • Philanthropy is at a crossroads as it experiences increased pressure from all sides to solve public problems and to be more accountable for outcomes.
    • Transparency may be a necessary component of accountability, but it is not sufficient and too often may be obfuscating.
    • Strategic philanthropy may paradoxically tend to make philanthropic organizations seem less accountable and more risk averse.
    • Accountability isn’t just about data transparency. It’s also about relationships.

* * * * *

We go into greater depth on these findings in the article (and even more in the paper), so please click over and take a read. If you find it interesting, we encourage you to comment on the Chronicle website. We would like to get a discussion going.

I’m pleased to announce that the Case Foundation has released a new report co-authored by me (with Cynthia Gibson) titled To Be Fearless.

The report, commissioned for the Case Foundation’s fifteenth anniversary, is an exploration of what it means for organizations in the social sector to be fearless. It is rooted in five key principles:

  1. Make Big Bets and Make History. Set audacious, not incremental, goals.
  2. Experiment Early and Often. Don’t be afraid to go first.
  3. Make Failure Matter. Failure teaches. learn from it.
  4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble. It’s comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections.
  5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear. Don’t overthink and overanalyze. Do.

The To Be Fearless Report lays out the framework for a wide-ranging initiative by the Case Foundation to spark a conversation about fearlessness across the social sector. It was released at an event streamed live on Ustream featuring Jean and Steve Case, Sen. Mark Warner, Walter Isaacson (CEO of the Aspen Institute and Steve Jobs’ biographer), and many notable social sector leaders.

The full report is available for free download at the Case Foundation’s web site.

Steve Case, Jean Case, Walter Isaacson

Report available from PACE

Click image for the report (pdf)

I’m excited to announce the release of a new report I wrote for Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), an important group of funders who do grantmaking in the civic participation and dialogue field.

Titled An Evolving Relationship – Executive Branch Approaches to Civic Engagement and Philanthropy, it is based on a briefing paper I wrote for a White House meeting earlier this year between leaders of the philanthropic community and Executive Branch officials. I want to thank PACE for the opportunity to work on this report, and for choosing to publish it.

This from the PACE press release:

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) is pleased to announce the release of its latest publication, “An Evolving Relationship: Executive Branch Approaches to Civic Engagement and Philanthropy.”  This white paper is based on a briefing memo prepared for a White House meeting earlier this year between leaders of the philanthropic community and Executive Branch officials.  The meeting focused on the topics of service, civic engagement, social innovation and public participation and where there might be shared interests between the two groups. . . .

“We are at a moment that many in the civic engagement field see as a threshold. Fundamental changes are taking place in the way that citizens interact with institutions, demanding new and more creative approaches to civic engagement,” said PACE executive director Chris Gates. “The new Administration and the field of philanthropy have both made it clear that they want to be a part of the conversation about how our nation can craft a new kind of relationship between citizens, civil society and government.”

An Evolving Relationship was prepared for PACE by Brad Rourke of The Mannakee Circle Group. The paper provides a broad overview of Executive Branch approaches to civic engagement, participation, and service over the past two decades. It also describes how philanthropy has worked with the federal government on these issues over the same time frame.

The paper argues that a number of key trends in White House approaches to civic engagement are now intersecting and suggest a great deal of possibility for moving forward in the near future. Civic engagement is a clear priority for this administration and has becoming increasingly embedded in the policies and practices of a number of Federal agencies.  At the same time, key philanthropic institutions are making increasing commitments to the fields of deliberative dialogue, civic engagement and democratic practice.

For more information about PACE or this paper contact:

-Chris Gates, Executive Director of PACE at cgates@pacefunders.org

-Brad Rourke, Mannakee Circle Group at rourke@mannakeecircle.com

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

Philanthropy: Too Scared To Fail?

The paper of record for the charitable community, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, yesterday reported on a new study by the Cambridge-based Center for Effective Philanthropy. While the report itself focuses primarily on the ways foundations use strategic planning, the most dramatic finding has to do with how foundations evaluate whether their good works are working.

Ask foundations if they are having impact, and almost eight in ten (78%) foundation leaders say they are. Ask them if they actually have measures to determine whether this is true, and just 26% say they measure all of their work. (Thirty nine percent say they measure the effectiveness of some of their work.)

That’s bad enough. But push them a little harder and ask them to point to the specific measures they use to determine how effective their work is, and only 8% of foundation leaders can identify their metrics.

As a person who has managed grant-funded projects, I have watched the field of philanthropy actively embrace strategic planning and measurement. Every new grant proposal these days has to have a “logic model” (that is, a credible reason to think that it might work) and some way of assessing or proving impact. That latter gives community benefit organizations fits, because for many programs it’s hard to figure out what to measure. A soup kitchen can measure number of meals served, but what about a civic engagement effort? Just looking for an uptick in voter turnout is a ham handed approach.

Indeed, evaluation and assessment is the current Holy Grail throughout the independent sector. There have been very promising advances made in actually measuring the kinds of things that used to be seen as unmeasurable. (For instance, the National Conference on Citizenship has developed a very well-rounded measure of engagement.)

brokenmirror 012 by Flickr user Paul J Everett

brokenmirror 012 by Flickr user Paul J Everett

But it is disconcerting to learn that foundations, who are fundamentally beholden to no constituency and so ought to be able to take the most risks – are the most risk averse. So risk-averse, it seems, many would rather not look at the data to find out how well their programs are working. They don’t seem to want to look in the mirror.

Philanthropy philosopher Sean Stannard Stockton has written recently about how ironic this is in general, and has pointed out a few foundations that are bucking the trend: the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation.

As a member in good standing of the nonprofit community, I urge foundations to apply the same metrics they demand of others to themselves – and, at the same time, to take on more risk. Foundations can withstand failure and they ought to embrace it. Nonprofit community benefit organizations, on the front lines and dependent on others for funding, cannot so well afford the same kinds of risks without a safety net.

In this week’s edition of my podcast, Public Life Today, I interview the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s director of social media strategy, Larry Blumenthal.

I recently ran across a post of Larry’s in which he describes how social media is not only a useful communications tool — but how it can also help foundations do a better job of philanthropy.

So I contacted Larry and asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about it for a bit. Our sixteen-minute conversation was terrific, and touched on a number of interesting issues, including the groundbreaking Changemakers initiative.

Thanks, Larry, for talking to me.

Enjoy!

Click here to subscribe to Public Life Today using iTunes!

Me in last year's Marine Corps Marathon

Me in last year's Marine Corps Marathon

As you may know, the Marine Corps Marathon is coming up in October — October 25, to be exact. I plan to run in it again this year. I am excited! Last year I came very close to my goal (I finished at 4:13:58). This year I hope at least to beat last year’s time, with a stretch goal of cracking four hours.

As I did last year, I am once again running with the Organization for Autism Research charity team.

My friend, Annie Corr, has autism. Her parents, Nancy and Ed, have honored me by asking me to do very small things to support her once in a while. Little things like a drive to the caregiver’s, or staying over a few hours into the night when they need to be away. I have come to know Annie and she always makes me smile.

Donating to the Organization for Autism Research will help that organization make practical research available to the field, to improve the lives of all people with autism, like Annie.

If you are willing and interested, you can donate here at this page.

There is no lower limit. Last year friends and family helped me raise $1,770. Let’s beat that!!

I do understand that there are many causes. My cause may not be your cause. I understand that! So, please, do not feel any pressure with this. Simply give if you feel so moved.

If you are the head of an organization and interested in gift matching in return for sponsorship (you know, like if I wore a logo t-shirt during the race or something like that), please get in touch with me.

An offhand question asked by a colleague the other day got me thinking. She asked me, “In five years, what would you like to be known for?” This is a slightly different version of the standard where-do-you-want-to-be-in-five-years query.

The way it was framed drew me up short and made me think.

My immediate answer was “I would like to be known for helping people be the people they aspire to be in public life.”

The reason this got me thinking is that I am a part of the “nonprofit sector” or “philanthropic sector.” Among my colleagues, everyone is talking about change. They’ve been talking change since long before that young senator from Illinois took the reins of power.

For years now, every nonprofit organization has had to have a “theory of change ” that it could whip out and explain. Every funding request, it seems, now requires a statement of the recipient’s “theory of change.”

All this “change” business has always made me feel out of step with my nonprofit friends, but I never quite was able to put my finger on why. Now I know. I’m not too interested in change. That’s not what drives me. I’m interested in helping people.

It seems to me, surveying the field, that the clamor for “change” has pushed out an important — and, I might argue, fundamental — aspect of philanthropy. This aspect is directly related to the root of the word: love of humanity. Organizations and individual people who just want to help others tend to get set aside as funders seek more and more impact for their donated dollars.

This effect is completely understandable and I don’t indict anyone for it. Funders really do need to stretch their donations further. There really are large problems to be tackled, problems that will take change more than charity. And, many individual people do need help due to broader forces that ought to change.

But there’s also a human scale and I fear that there are too few people speaking up for it. It’s the individual person helped to find a job, or a place to live. It’s the citizen who learns she or he has a voice and can use it.

After all, “change” can come about from individual improvement just as it can come about through systemic action. My personal bias, simply because this is where I feel most comfortable, is to know that people on an individual basis can live better lives because of something I might have done.

We need both change and charity.

So, how can we keep the human scale of philanthropy and not shove it aside, even as we try harder to do more with less?

Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation, recently spoke to gathered YMCA’s and gave a chilling overview of the nonprofit sector:

Early on in the crisis, we argued about whether the problem would be short- or long-term, about whether we could simply limp through to a resumption of what we’ve come to understand as normalcy. No longer. We are indisputably in the midst of profound structural shifts that will carry deep and enduring effects. There has been a fundamental breakdown in those systems that serve as the thermostat for much of our daily lives – not just in whether we can get a bank to make a loan, but also in the nature of the regulatory environment, the role of government investment, the need to manage against scarcity.

The nonprofit landscape of yesterday or today will not be the nonprofit landscape of tomorrow. Undercapitalization, chronically a problem, will become a death spiral. When revenues decline by 10 or even 20 percent, a nonprofit can put itself on a diet of discipline and flexibility and emerge at the other end with its mission pretty much intact. When demand skyrockets and revenues decline by 40 or 50 percent, however, you’re a different organization altogether.

An Honest To God Guillotine by Flickr user Augapfel

"An Honest To God Guillotine" by Flickr user Augapfel

This is the best description I have yet seen about the gravity of the new reality nonprofits face. Many nonprofits wonn’t be able to just belt-tighten their way out of it. They will have to change fundamentally or perish.

It is much like the defense industry in the earlly 1990’s, when the chief revenue source (the US government) fundamentally changed how it operated. Defense firms perished, merged, or retooled.

The good news is that, on the other side, the surviving organizations can be far more robust and effective than they were going into the crisis.

Even in good times, when I advise clients that are going through strategic planning, I tell them that no strategic plan is really complete without a “stop do” list. You really haven’t made the tough decisions unless you have included things that you are not going to do anymore.

But at times like this, when we’re in the “death spiral” that Rapson describes, it’s even more important. Organizations simply cannot afford to expend extraneous energy.

Here’s one way to think about it. Start with those things that only your organization can or is willing to do. Put everything else on the chopping block.

Here is how Rapson describes the questions that Kresge is facing:

Foundations . . . also need to ask themselves where their uniquely flexible resources can make the greatest difference. Is it in investing organization-by-organization in those elements of the safety net infrastructure that touch people directly? Or is it in putting money into efforts to change systems that bear so heavily on people’s life opportunities?

The answer to this question will drive very different day-to-day responses. Nonprofits can ask similar questions of themselves. Indeed, they must.

So what’s on your “stop do” list? What can your organization uniquely do?