Since I was out of the office for a good chunk of July and August, I’ve decided to combine both months into one 10 Great Reads list. But let me be clear, there was still lots going on, I just happened to be (somewhat blissfully) missing it.
From philanthropy’s role in inequality, to climate change preparation, to what the Greek financial crisis teaches us about networks, to civic engagement, to digital’s effect on fundraising, to social impact bond results and pizza on the family farm, they were a great couple of months.
In my (limited) view, below are my 10 favorite reads from the past two months. But because I know I missed things, please add to the list in the comments.
- President of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker made a lot of news this summer, from his announcement of Ford’s shift to focusing on inequality and unrestricted grants, to his July release of a thought-provoking essay in which he took foundations to task. He argued that foundations have been “cutting the pie into smaller slices,” and he instead encouraged funders to embrace “a new era of capacity building investment.” Because, as he put it, “What civil society needs most, and now more than ever, are resilient, durable, fortified institutions that can take on inequality, fight poverty, advance justice and promote dignity and democracy.” Amen! Ford’s move kicked off an excellent Inequality and Philanthropy forum on the HistPhil blog. And Inside Philanthropy‘s David Callahan argued that Walker’s message is about significant change, which may be tough for the sector to hear.
- In a fascinating (and rather depressing) article, Eric Holthaus from Slate talks to climate scientists about how they are personally responding to the climate crisis, particularly how they have “factored in humanity’s lack of progress on climate change in [their] families’ future plans.” Yikes.
- Reserve funds are an incredibly critical (but often misunderstood) aspect of nonprofit financial strategy. But as she always does, Kate Barr from the Nonprofits Assistance Fund provides a clear roadmap to understanding.
- Paul Vandeventer uses the summer’s Greek Euro crisis to illustrate when networks (of which the Eurozone is an excellent example) thrive and when they fail. As he puts it, “Ignoring or giving short shrift to…the fundamental principles by which networks operate wastes precious reserves of time, money, and goodwill, and imperils all the hopeful good that organizations, institutions, and countries set out to achieve when they start down the path of networked action.”
- Late July saw a fascinating gathering of social changemakers around civic engagement, the “Breaking Through” conference, hosted by the Knight Foundation. Keynoter Peter Levine argued “This is the year that we can take back American politics. It’s up to us.” It was a great lineup of speakers and sessions about getting people engaged again. You can see video from the conference here.
- Is digital becoming a gamechanger in fundraising? Some think so. And in August Facebook launched a new Donate button, but is it really all that helpful to nonprofits? Some argue that Facebook is critical. Others think the Donate button is a fail.
- August of 2014 saw the record-breaking ALS Ice Bucket fundraising challenge. Many (including me) were skeptical of the campaign, but it turns out that last summer’s financial windfall helped scientists make a breakthrough in research to fight the disease.
- This August was the 10 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina. There were many great articles about where New Orleans has been and is now. But my two favorite were Greater New Orleans Foundation President Albert Ruesga’s Ten-Year Perspective on the philanthropic response, and Andrea Gabor’s New York Times article, The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover.
- The first results came in from the New York state social impact bond experiment, and they weren’t great. Goldman Sachs invested in a Rikers Island program that attempted to reduce recidivism among teenagers.The program failed to meet its goals and Goldman lost money. But New York is not giving up, as first Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris said, “This social impact bond allowed the city to test a notion that did not prove successful within the climate we inherited on Rikers. We will continue to use innovative tools on Rikers and elsewhere.”
- I’m always a fan of examples of innovation. NPR provided a glimpse of how family farms are using pizza to reinvent their business model.
Photo Credit: Anne Adrian
There were lots of great discussions and developments in the world of social innovation in September. So much so, that I had a really hard time narrowing down to ten. But alas, here are my top 10 of the last month. As always, please add what I missed to the comments. If you’d like to see the expanded list of what catches my eye, follow me on Twitter @nedgington.
You can also read the lists of Great Reads from previous months here.
- Two really interesting divergent reports on the results of social change work. First, a $1 million, 6-year study of nonprofit After School Matters shows that the program doesn’t really change lives.
- And a year after Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million grant to Newark public schools, some positive results are trickling in.
- After the August resignation of Steve Jobs from Apple due to health reasons, people came out in droves to criticize him for his poor philanthropic record. Dan Pallotta rose to his defense, arguing, in a thought-provoking way, that Jobs’ contributions to the world at large make him the World’s Greatest Philanthropist.
- In an exciting move to kick-start social impact bonds (a government bond that allows private investors to invest capital in nonprofits and then gain a return if the nonprofit achieves promised outcomes), the Rockefeller Foundation granted Social Finance $500K to develop the social impact bond market in the US.
- September was the month of the 4th annual Social Capital Markets Conference that brings social entrepreneurs and the funders of social entrepreneurs together. Over the course of the four SoCap conferences there has been a recurring tension between philanthropy and impact investing. Adin Miller reported from SoCap that the great convergence between philanthropy and impact investing has disappointingly not yet happened.
- The Washington Post shows us the devastating impact of the economic crisis in five charts.
- At long last, CharityNavigator, one of the best known nonprofit rating systems, unveils their Charity Navigator 2.0, an expanded rating system that includes financial health, accountability, and transparency measures. Every nonprofit should understand this important change and what it means for their organization.
- Lucy Bernholz discusses a fascinating distinction between problems and difficulties and the implications for social change efforts. “Problems have solutions; solve them and problems go away. Difficulties don’t have solutions; they require continual address.”
- On the Harvard Business Review blog Lucy Marcus argues In Troubled Times, Boards Must Step Up.
- In a similar vein, Mario Morino from Venture Philanthropy Partners argues that Board Members Cannot Check Their Courage at the Door.
Photo Credit: MMcQuade
There’s much talk lately about social media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, etc.). In fact it can at times feel like the beginning of a cult. And there is increasing pressure on nonprofits, in the midst of an increasingly difficult fundraising climate, to jump on the social media bandwagon. Blogs and journals are riddled with articles about how to dip your nonprofit foot into the social media space. And there are some good tips. But the bottom line of all of them is just to try something, jump on Twitter, set up a Facebook page, start a blog. You don’t need to do it all, just pick something.
But in the middle of everything else a nonprofit staff is working on, with tapped out resources, an increase in demand for their services, and doubled efforts in fundraising it can seem that social media is just something for which there is no time or resources. And what is the payoff anyway?
Well, Roger Craver, a fundraising consultant with The Agitator, has done some pretty interesting calculations on what the fundraising payoff to experimenting with social media could be. For an organization with 100,000 donors, a social media fundraising campaign, asking donors to reach out to their networks and fundraise for you, could raise over $500,000. The nonprofit provides a social media tool, for example a Facebook, Twitter or other tool that their donors can use to encourage their friends and family to contribute.
Craver has some interesting math, but basically the idea is that 2.5% of a donor base could raise $210 each. So, for an organization with 100,000 donors that translates to $525,000 per campaign. He doesn’t extrapolate this to smaller organizations and really all of this is projection anyway, but what if? Take an organization with a donor base of 10,000 people. 2.5% of those people raising $210 each would be $52,500. This is for one campaign that probably cost the organization nothing, beyond minimal staff time. That’s pretty impressive. That could replace the revenue from a time-intensive and expensive gala.
But how does an organization get started? There are two simple solutions that have been generated here in Austin. First, Charity Dynamics created a Facebook application that allows nonprofits to do this very thing. And Kimbia helps you create a very easy online fundraising widget that people can send out to their networks. There are also some Twitter applications, like Twitpay that allows people to donate to organizations via a PayPal-like extension of Twitter. Donors simply Tweet their donation amount to their intended recipient, in any amount under $50. And new applications are being developed every day.
So don’t be afraid. Just get out there and try it. Despite the many social media “experts” out there, this space is new for all of us. All of it is an experiment. There’s no such thing as failure.
If you are a nonprofit manager struggling with social media (what it is, how to use it, whether its a good idea for your organization or not) read this great post by Amy Southerland, a communications consultant for nonprofits. Social media is Internet and mobile applications for sharing information and ideas. It includes blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc. I’ve written about social media and fundraising before. But Amy gives a great, easily understood overview of what social media is, why nonprofits need to jump in and how they can get started. She also includes a couple of examples of nonprofits that have really used social media effectively.