The gloves came off in February. There was enough criticism to go around from foundation decision making and use of evaluations, to Millennial social entrepreneurs, to American charity, to nonprofit versus for-profit, to the overwhelming politeness of the nonprofit sector, it seems everything was up for debate. But that’s okay with me — I think controversy can be an incredible aid for pushing thinking forward.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in February in social innovation. But, as always, let me know in the comments what caught your eye over the past month. And if you want to see my expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a report on nonprofit performance assessment that criticized funders for 1) not being willing to pay for evaluations and 2) being more interested in data that is helpful to the foundation, not the nonprofit. Beth Kanter chimes in with some tools for becoming a “data informed” nonprofit.
- While we’re on the topic of foundations, “transparency” is becoming a real buzzword for them lately, and Lucy Bernholz digs deeper into recent examples, while James Irvine Foundation president Jim Canales (who will be the subject of this blog’s March interview) practices some real transparency by reacting to recent controversy about the foundation’s new arts strategy.
- And what about the flood of Millennials wanting to be the next great social entrepreneur? Writing on the Harvard Business Review blog, Mike McGlade provides a cautionary (and potentially controversial) tale to Millennials seeking to become a social entrepreneur. As he says “Before you don the social entrepreneur title and dive into building your enterprise consider if you need more experience to realize your idea. If you do, set down your entrepreneur ego and find a job. You need to get smart to make a difference.”
- Does America, one of the most charitable countries, have a hard time accepting charity itself? The controversy surrounding a United Arab Emirates gift to Joplin, MO after it was devastated by a May 2011 tornado makes Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill wonder if America is no longer the self-sufficient, munificent benefactor it once was.
- In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Caroline Preston describes how politeness is holding the nonprofit sector back. (It reminds me of this blog post a couple of years back).
- The Dowser blog interviews Munro Richardson c0-founder of startup MyEDMatch, an innovative website that matches teachers with opportunities across the country, to address the problem of teacher turnover.
- In keeping with the growing drumbeat to connect the disparate nonprofit sector, Beth Simone Novack calls for digitizing nonprofit 990 data in order to “help the neediest among us access better services, nonprofit providers to become more effective and efficient, and everyone to understand the role of the nonprofit sector in our economy better.”
- The Nonprofit Finance Fund created a great graphic that demonstrates the core issues facing small nonprofits and what they and funders can do about them.
- Writing on the Idealistics blog, David Henderson suggests a process, based on how businesses maximize profits, for how nonprofits can use data to maximize outcomes.
- If you really want to change the world is it better to work in the nonprofit sector, or make money in the for-profit sector and give it away? William MacAskill and Brooke Allen provide a thought-provoking (and sometimes maddening) debate on the issue. MacAskill says don’t get a job at a nonprofit, and Brooke Allen argues Wall Street is not the answer.
Photo Credit: Tim Pierce
January was about looking ahead to 2013 and being prepared for the many changes to come. It was also about understanding and embracing new generations, thinking about risk differently, re-evaluating growth, and analyzing the unique and critical role of foundations.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in January in social innovation. But please add to the list in the comments. And if you want to see more, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- The predictions about what 2013 will mean for social innovation continue this month. As part of their whole Outlook 2013 series, the Chronicle of Philanthropy provides 5 Ways Nonprofit Work Will Change in 2013 and 5 Nonprofit Innovators to Watch. And the Philanthrocapitalism blog makes 20 predictions for 2013 chief among them is the rise of the woman philanthrocapitalist. Writing in Forbes, Antoinne Machal-Cajigas tells us What’s Next in the World of Social Innovation?
- January saw the second inauguration of President Obama, and Mathew Forti and Colin Murphy argue that his re-election campaign offers nonprofits some ideas about how to measure performance.
- Phil Buchanan, head of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, likes to stir things up, and I love him for it. He argues that nonprofit dependency on philanthropic dollars is NOT a bad thing. And because there is no rest for the weary, later in the month he argues against “the stampede to embrace the idea that for-profits — or for-profit models — can more easily combat our toughest social problems.”
- Writing on the HBR blog, Kimberly Dasher Tripp reminds us that scaling social impact is not about growing organizations, it’s about growing solutions.
- And speaking of impact, if you haven’t started figuring out what results your nonprofit is achieving, you may want to start since it looks like your youngest donors are demanding it.
- Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote a moving post about the critical role foundations play in our society, “Free from the bottom-line pressure of markets, the partisanship of electoral politics, and the demands of fundraising — [foundations] can use their independence to do remarkable things, whether it’s taking on issues that no one wants to touch, sticking with an issue for decades if required, or keeping the rest of us from forgetting the millions of people who, through no fault of their own, continue to be harmed and/or excluded by war, economic injustice, disease, and discrimination.”
- Beth Kanter writes a great post about overcoming the risk-aversion of the nonprofit sector by taking “little bets.”
- As you plan your conference schedule for the year ahead, check out the William James Foundation’s comprehensive list of social entrepreneurship conferences.
- Social change can be exhausting, demoralizing work. Here’s how a New York City teacher, with arguably one of the hardest jobs in education, stays committed to social change.
- The millennial generation is no longer willing to separate work and life, so says Ryan Steinbach on the UnSectored blog. In fact, “millennials see their careers as not a part of their lives, but rather what they do with their lives – and life is so much more than making ends meet. It’s social, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s about pursuing your passions, building relationships, and giving back.”
Photo Credit: thatdisneylover
Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who arguably could be called one of the first social entrepreneurs. The thing about social change is that it can be incredibly difficult, heart-breaking and time-consuming. It takes a tremendous tenacity to persevere until change comes.
One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King, which I think of often, counsels us to be patient and believe in change. Speaking on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in March of 1965, King said:
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?”….
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, because you shall reap what you sow….
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
You can watch a clip of that speech above, or click here to watch it if you are reading this in an email.
And I’m also reminded of this beautiful blog post that Kjerstin Erickson, a social entrepreneur working with African refugees, wrote three years ago. As does any social entrepreneur, she had grown tired of the slow pace of change. But with King’s words she found solace and the will to move forward:
And yet, we’ve all found ourselves in moments like these. It’s part of the process of reconciling the world we want with the world we live in. To make it through such times, we often have no option but to turn to the words of those wiser than we. On this national holiday, it’s a fitting tribute to Martin Luther King’s legacy that to recognize the role that his words continue to play in the internal struggles of so many of us seekers. For me personally, King’s words on the human struggle for a loving world are the first I turn to when in need of clarity or solace. To me his brilliance lies in the way that he never told anyone anything new, but rather elucidated the truths they always already knew. If you find yourself struggling with any of the questions I asked above, perhaps you will, like me, find your answer within yourself through the words of these timeless passages.
All of us working toward social change must remember these words. There are times when the end goal seems so far away, when the hurdles appear completely insurmountable. It is at those very times that you must pick yourself up, take a deep breath, and move another step forward.
I’ve been doing the monthly Social Velocity Blog Interview for 2 1/2 years now and have talked with more than thirty inspiring leaders in the world of social innovation. But now I need your help.
Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed
- Social investment gurus like Kevin Jones, Antony Bugg-Levine and George Overholser
- Philanthropic thought leaders like Phil Buchanan, Lucy Bernholz, Clara Miller and Sean Stannard-Stockton
- Nonprofit leaders pushing innovation forward like Dennis Morrow, Susan Comfort and Karina Mangu-Ward
- Social entrepreneur startups like Erine Gray and Ted Howard
- Sector activists like Robert Egger and Jeff Raderstrong
And many, many more.
It’s been amazing to hear from these leaders about where we’re going in the world of social change and where they hope to take us. You can see all of the past interviews here.
But now I’d like your ideas for who I should interview next. What all of these interviewees have in common is that they are people who are pushing boundaries, asking hard questions, creating new realities, making real social change. Who’s next?
So help me add to the list. If you have a suggestion for who I should interview next, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your help!
As the end of 2012 drew near, December brought the usual looking forward and looking back. It was a time to reflect on where we’d been and where we (might) be going. It was also a time to salve the pain of disaster and tragedy with hope and innovation.
Below are my top 10 reads in December in social innovation. But please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- First we took a look back. Lucy Bernholz, queen of social sector predictions, reviews the ten year predictions that she made in 2010 to see how she’s doing so far. PhilanTopic offers an infographic that demonstrates how effective online and social media fundraising was in 2012.
- Then we look ahead. Writing on the Nonprofit Quarterly blog, Rick Cohen provides a wrap up of various social sector leaders’ predictions for how the nonprofit sector will change in the coming year. And Twitter’s Manager For Social Innovation describes how social media is shaping the future of nonprofits. And on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog Mark Tobias offers nonprofits Ten Technology Trends to Watch in 2013.
- Amidst the season of giving, Caroline Fiennes and Phil Buchanan explain (on the Freakeconomics blog) why giving to fewer charities is actually better.
- In a very interesting thought piece Kenneth Rogoff, economics professor at Harvard, takes issue with those who argue that our current economic troubles stem from a long-term innovation crisis.
- Building on a growing movement to get the nonprofit sector to stand up for itself, Johns Hopkins University released the results of a nonprofit sector survey that found a widespread consensus that seven values lie at the core of the nonprofit sector. But they also found that nonprofit leaders believe the sector must better articulate these values to the media, government, and general public.
- In his usual fashion, Seth Godin likes to pronounce on the nonprofit sector, a sector which he doesn’t quite understand. His post Non-profits Have a Charter to be Innovators drew some fire, but raised some interesting questions. And echoing that interest in seeing more nonprofit innovation, Google shifts their philanthropic focus in an interesting way.
- And not to be left behind, philanthropy is getting into the innovation game too with more foundations exploring design thinking.
- After the horror of the Newtown tragedy on December 14th, this collection of 26 photos from 2012 helped restore our faith in humanity and was a much needed salve.
- The Red Cross provided a great case study on how pull (instead of push) marketing can work in the nonprofit world.
- Something really interesting came out of hurricane Sandy: crowdfunding disaster relief. No longer is disaster response the sole responsibility of government and large nonprofits, individuals set up their own relief efforts via social media.
Photo Credit: Svenstorm
Along with the burgeoning social entrepreneurship movement comes a bit of hubris that social entrepreneurs know better how to create social change than do the nonprofits that have been working on it for decades. We can’t dismiss an entire sector that has been working on social problems for years. However, I do think that there are some things that nonprofits can learn from social entrepreneurs. The most important is how to lose the Charity Mindset.
Nonprofits are sometimes referred to as “charities,” and it is a real misnomer and does a real disservice to nonprofits. A charity mindset is when a nonprofit, its board, funders or others promoting its work have a narrow view that the organization is benevolent, but not critical, to the world at large. The charity mindset assumes that a nonprofit starts from the position of need, inadequacy, and burden, rather than a position of opportunity, strength, and effectiveness. The charity mindset differs from a social entrepreneur mindset in a number of ways:
- Symptoms vs. Solutions: A charity, by its very definition, exists to provide aid to the needy, not to solve the underlying cause of the need. This is not to say that every nonprofit can work toward solving an underlying problem; there will always be organizations that exist simply to provide basic needs (food, shelter, safety, etc.). But I wonder if too many nonprofit organizations view their work as residing in the “charity” camp, instead of working, as social entrepreneurs do, to understand the cause of the need and how how they may be able to attack and solve it.
- Fundraising: A fundraiser in the charity mindset apologizes for the burden of asking someone for money, but a social entrepreneur offers investment opportunities to prospects. Wendy Kopp from Teach for America went around evangelizing the Teach for America story and sought investors who wanted to get in on the ground level of an incredible opportunity to change the American public education system.
- Investment in Infrastructure: Charities spend every last penny on the program and leave little money for building the organization. Social entrepreneurs understand that it takes organizations, infrastructure, systems, and talent to effectively execute on a solution to a social problem.
- Respect: Charities may be beloved by their supporters, but they may not garner a lot of respect from them. Social entrepreneurs behave as equal partners with funders in creating solutions, and, as such, they command and receive real respect from investors, volunteers, partners and others.
- True Costs: Charities like to claim that as much money as possible goes to direct services, but social entrepreneurs recognize the true costs of their endeavors and are open and honest with funders about those costs. In fact they demand that funders understand and support those true costs.
I think the old adage is true, people will treat you the way you ask to be treated. If a nonprofit acts like a charity, people will treat it like one. Nonprofits need to stand up and demand to be treated as critical, equal partners in creating solutions.
Photo Credit: wolfgangfoto
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Erine Gray. Erine is the founder of Aunt Bertha, an online Benefit Corporation that matches people in need with federal, state, county, city or nonprofit services to specifically address their situation. Erine studied economics at Indiana University, public policy at the University of Texas and spent the better part of eleven years consulting (six of which were spent helping governments operate more effectively).
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Aunt Bertha essentially exists to fix an inefficient system of connecting services to those who need them. It seems to me your model is at the heart of an ongoing debate about whether there are some public goods that simply cannot be turned into marketable items. Obviously you believe there is a market for you, but why? What sorts of public goods can be turned into a market?
Erine: I’ve always been kind of a public policy nerd and understand that government has a vital role in the social safety net. Having graduated from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, I understand that government programs don’t have the luxury of catering to a certain segment. Programs like Food Stamps (now called SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) don’t get to choose who they serve because they *are* the safety net.
The private sector is different. A consulting firm can choose to only serve telecommunications companies with 200 – 500 employees. A shoe store can focus on high-end running shoes. These types of organizations can survive if they hustle and convince enough people to become customers.
When you start to look at the amount of money spent by both government social service programs and charities, the figure is spectacular. It just takes a little research and a few clicks in Excel to see the enormous amount of money that is spent every year either telling people about these programs or determining whether or not people qualify.
If we accept, for a moment, that the public social safety net should exist (and I believe it should), we then must ask the question: is the public doing a good job of administering these programs?
I’ve spent the last 10 years working in this industry, with six of those years working on projects with city and state governments. My answer to this question would be: there’s plenty of room for improvement.
We don’t need to start over because government does some things very well. But we should break down the problem and see what should be outsourced to qualified vendors.
Should governments build their own marketing teams to tell people about their programs? Or should governments work with professional marketing firms to get the word out as needed? Should charities build their own fundraising software or would Blackbaud [fundraising software] do the trick?
Nell: The fact that you are a for-profit company is fascinating to me. Can you explain how your business model works and how you make money in a space that has traditionally been dominated by the nonprofit and public sectors? And do you envision those public-run services (like 211) eventually going away?
Erine: Aunt Bertha picks up where Uncle Sam leaves off by making it easy to find and apply for social services online and through mobile devices. Our service is and always will be free for people in need or those working on their behalf. Our users include everybody from the homeless (yes, they definitely have internet access in many cases), working moms, family caretakers, social workers and case managers.
We list every government and charitable program we can find on our site for free as well.
Many charities and government agencies don’t yet offer a way for people to apply online. We offer a software platform that allows them to accept and process applications online. Charities pay us a monthly fee for this service. Our customers are housing programs, churches, government agencies, charter schools or any other organization that provides need-based services to people.
In your question you refer to the 211 service, I would hope that there will always be a place for these call centers. The 211 call centers are staffed with committed volunteers that help people navigate very difficult circumstances, 24-hours a day. However, if Aunt Bertha is successful, more people in need will be able to find social service programs themselves (without needing to call someone). We believe that if more people find help themselves, the cost of running a government funded call center will go down – which is better for everyone involved.
Nell: Any social entrepreneur just starting out struggles with the question of whether to organize as a for-profit or nonprofit. How and why did you make your decision?
Erine: I went back and forth about this one. Our mission is to make human service information accessible to people and programs. To truly be successful at this mission, I believe we need to be a sustainable business.
With our software, governments and charities are saving money over the way they currently work. They are willing to pay us a monthly fee to help them provide a better service to people in need. We think this is a better approach and more importantly, we never wanted to be in a position where we are competing with our customers for donations. That’s why we chose to be a certified Benefit Corporation (a business that meets higher standards of mission and accountability).
Nell: How widespread is Aunt Bertha? How many people are using the service now and what are your goals for the future?
Erine: Aunt Bertha is available in every zip code in the United States. Our service is both on the web and available on most smart phone browsers. Although our service works everywhere, our focus so far has been in Texas – where we have a critical mass of programs in most zip codes.
So far we’ve helped more than 20,000 people find help and we believe we’re just getting started. Right now we’re focused on making our service as intuitive and user-friendly as possible. We think we’re on to something big, but we don’t want to skip the important steps of listening to our early adopters.
Erine: We were fortunate enough to have been accepted as an ATI company this year and it has provided us access to coaching, introductions and inexpensive office space. ATI is a joint initiative between the City of Austin, the State of Texas and the University of Texas and it feels like they’re all behind us. Whenever you can be in an environment where more and more people are rooting for you it’s always a good thing.
The Unreasonable Institute was a very memorable experience for us. I had a chance to live with 21 of the world’s most interesting social entrepreneurs and words can’t describe what I learned during that experience. I highly recommend people check out the site and try and figure out a way to get to know as many people associated with the Unreasonable Institute as possible. They’re making a big dent in the world.
We recently raised capital after bootstrapping the business for the first two years. We’re very excited about our future. Our investors so far have liked the audacity of our mission. We think we can organize the world’s social service information so people and programs can find what they need in seconds. And because we sell software-as-a-service in a huge industry, we’re an attractive investment with a scalable model.
Most importantly, we’re starting to see – in real-time – the supply of and demand for social services. That’s never been done before and we hope that this data will allow some amazing things to happen. It’s hard not to get behind this goal.
With a national election, hurricane Sandy, and Giving Tuesday, November was a busy month. All three events encouraged reflection about social change. And at the same time we had some pretty interesting arguments for how two of the sectors supporting social change (philanthropy and government) needed to shift as well. All made for a fascinating month of reading.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in November in social innovation. And as always, please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- Even though hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October, much of November was spent cleaning up and reacting to the powerful storm. Patrick Davis reflects on what our reaction in natural disasters says about human nature.
- And from Sandy we moved into the national election where, once it was over, there was much to learn. First Lucy Bernholz marvels at Nate Silver (the statistician that very accurately predicted the outcome of the election) and wonders what the corollary is in the philanthropic world. She asks “Who will be the first big philanthropist to put predictive analysis to the test in the social sector?” And apparently there is much to be learned from the Obama campaign’s email tactics during the campaign.
- November also saw the launch of “Giving Tuesday,” an online effort to kick off the philanthropic season, just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the beginning of the commercial Christmas season. While it seems like a great, innovative idea, Tim Ogden disagrees arguing that it won’t “materially affect giving in any positive way.”
- It looks like it’s time to get tough with foundations. The PhilanTopic blog argues, “No More Free Rides: Foundations Need to Increase General Operating Support Now.” Amen to that! And GlassPockets, the Foundation Center’s online effort to increase foundation accountability and transparency now has 50 foundations participating, representing $138 billion in assets and more than $6.5 billion in annual giving, or 15% of all U.S. foundation giving.
- And the government has work to do as well. Former Social Innovation Fund Director Paul Carttar writes a call to action about what government can do to more effectively encourage social innovation.
- The drum beat for nonprofits to measure outcomes continues. Writing on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Mollie West and Andy Posner encourage nonprofits to go the way of business and government and start using The Math of Social Change.
- And there is a really interesting new development in the ongoing effort to compare and rate social change organizations. The Social Impact 100 Index was unveiled in November. Modeled after the S&P Index in the financial markets, this effort by the Social Impact Exchange analyzes and picks the best 100 nonprofit investments for donors. It will be very interesting to see how this effort evolves and whether it transforms the nonprofit rating space.
- Despite a tough economy, charitable giving rose slightly in 2011. But the real news is that online giving has grown to a $22 billion industry.
- And speaking of fundraising in the online world, social media has completely disrupted the old model for how a nonprofit engages a donor, so says Julie Dixon and Denise Keyes. And Kivi Leroux Miller agrees.
- On the Managing the Mission Checkbook blog, Kate Barr cautions that nonprofit sustainability isn’t just about revenue, it’s about 1) working to achieve your mission 2) integrating a successful business model and 3) adapting and changing. Agreed!
Photo Credit: kadorin
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