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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: August 2014

social innovation readsBetween my own time away from social media in August, the general end of summer quiet, and of course, the glut of posts about the Ice Bucket challenge (of which I have already said my piece), my list of great reads in August is admittedly slim.

But there was some interesting debate, most notably about “strategic philanthropy” and about ratings agency Philanthropedia. Also, calls for more nonprofit leadership development and for nonprofit leaders to get out of their own way by taking the Overhead Pledge. Throw in a little Mark Twain, some sharing economy, and a dash of Millennial analysis and you have a pretty good month in the world of social change.

So below is my pick of the 10 best reads in the world of social innovation in August. For an expanded list you can follow me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Google+. And you can see past months’ 10 Great Reads lists here.

  1. Leadership development is a woefully underfunded need in the nonprofit sector. Indeed from 1992-2011 only $3.5 billion of the nearly $287 billion dollars granted by foundations went to support leadership. In order to get more foundations investing in leadership development, Rusty Stahl offers case studies of 9 foundations who already do.

  2. In the summer issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, the lead article “Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World” caused quite a stir in the philanthropy world with many arguing that there is not much new there. In August, Alliance Magazine ran a series of editorials by philanthropy leaders as counterpoints. Most interesting among them was Avila Kilmurray’s, former director of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland, response, in which she said “Can we not just recognize that when any funder sets her/himself the task of addressing complex issues…there needs to be provision for continuous consultation, practice, reflection and change?”

  3. An interesting article in the New York Times paints the Millennial generation as a very communal-minded one, where “the highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.” From working, to eating, to shopping it seems Millennials bake social into everything they do. How will the world be different if that holds true as they age?

  4. Writing in Forbes, Tom Watson asks whether nonprofits should participate in GivingTuesday. As he puts it, “Is #GivingTuesday a well-meaning marketing promotion – or is it a real, organic movement for change?…[Does it] seek to increase U.S. giving from 2% of GDP (where it’s been stuck for two generations) to some higher point?” Amen to that!

  5. Rating nonprofit effectiveness is such a tricky challenge. Philanthropedia, one rating system that is driven by crowdsourced feedback from experts, comes under fire from the clean water space for being just “a popularity contest.” But others claim it’s an improvement over previous evaluations.

  6. Writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy Nicole Wallace shows the value of sharing data by profiling Crisis Text Line, which gives other nonprofits, researchers and government agencies access to their data of 60,000 counseling sessions with teens in crisis to use in their own programs. It begs the question whether other social change data could be shared and how we make that easier to do.

  7. Sue Dorsey from Water for People was among a group of nonprofit leaders at the InsideNGO conference who took the Overhead Pledge in August, vowing to fully disclose the true costs of their nonprofits. And she encourages other nonprofit leaders to follow suit. This is exciting because it is not enough for funders to get over the overhead myth, nonprofit leaders must as well.

  8. I am always a sucker for connecting literature and/or history to social change, and even better both, so David Bonbright’s post about how Mark Twain would have viewed recent trends in business is fascinating. Bonbright argues that Twain wanted American business to fully integrate profit and community. And we are beginning to witness this trend again where companies are “embracing the full implications of what they are – what they mean for the environment, for communities, for the most marginalized people affected by their supply chains…[because] this is best way to remain competitive and successful over time.” Let’s hope!

  9. The new “sharing” economy is not all good, but not all bad either, as Daniel Ben-Horin argues that “there are enormous opportunities for the social sector to engage with the values-driven segment of the sharing economy.”

  10. Finally, some guidance on making your nonprofit email marketing more mobile friendly and your website better able to connect people to your cause. It’s all about responsive, engaging design.

Photo Credit: Seth Anderson

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How Do We Measure Nonprofit Effectiveness?

There is something exciting happening around measuring the value that nonprofits create. Several new efforts are underway to create a system for measuring and comparing how effective nonprofits are.

Just a few years ago, the only measure for a nonprofit’s effectiveness was the percent they spent on overhead expenses. If a nonprofit spent a magic 20% or less on non-program expenses they were deemed worthy of donations. This destructive way of evaluating nonprofit organizations has been losing favor over the last few years as rating agencies like Charity Navigator have recognized the need for a broader evaluation of nonprofit effectiveness. New measures have started to include outcome and impact elements.

But all of this begs the ultimate question which is how do we create a system for measuring and comparing nonprofits across the many social issues and operating models that make up the sector? Because however faulty the overhead percentage measurement was, at least it allowed a comparison of apples to apples. You could see how one nonprofit stacked up against another. But if each nonprofit organization is now creating their own theory of change, and their own outcome and impact measurements, how do we compare those to another nonprofit’s outcome and impact measures?

Enter a host of efforts to solve that very problem. One of these efforts is Markets for Good. They aim to create an infrastructure for evaluating nonprofit effectiveness based on outcomes and impact. You can watch their video explaining their efforts below, or if you are reading this in an email click here to watch the video.

And there are many other efforts to move the nonprofit sector toward measuring outcomes instead of spending practices. These include Idealistics, GiveWell, Philanthropedia among many others. But it’s not clear yet how any of these efforts will be able to analyze and compare the effectiveness of social change efforts because there are many pieces to that puzzle.

To truly be able to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of social change efforts, we have to:

  • Encourage nonprofit organizations to develop a theory of change, because you can’t measure whether an organization has created change if they have no idea what they are trying to change in the first place.
  • Give nonprofits resources with which to measure whether their theory of change is actually coming to fruition. Measuring outcomes and impact takes time and money.
  • Separate a single nonprofit’s efforts to create change from other forces working on the same social problem so that we can understand the effectiveness of a single organization.
  • Create a standardized system for comparing the ability of one nonprofit organization to create change to another’s ability to create change.
  • Connect such a system for measuring nonprofit effectiveness to systems already being created for for-profit social entrepreneurs (like GIIRS) so that those with money to invest in social change efforts can compare the social return they would get in a for-profit and/or nonprofit setting.
  • Communicate the results of those measures to philanthropic and social investors so they can make more informed, more results-focused investments, whether those be to nonprofit or for-profit social change organizations.

To me, comparing the ability of organizations to create social change is an enormous nut to crack. But it is an incredibly worthy endeavor. I applaud Markets for Good and the many other efforts working to create a system for understanding and comparing social change efforts. It will be fascinating to watch this space develop.

Photo Credit: KJGarbutt




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The View from an “Old” Social Enterprise: An Interview with Jim Gibbons

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. Goodwill is such an interesting case because the organization has been practicing social entrepreneurship since long before it became cool, which I’ve talked about before. Goodwill started in 1902 in Boston and in 2010 provided jobs and job training to 2.4 million people with a budget of $4 billion. Gibbons earned his B.S. in industrial engineering from Purdue University, and a M.B.A. from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, where he was the first blind person to graduate with a master’s in business administration.

You also can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: Goodwill has employed a social enterprise model for over a century, long before social entrepreneurship was a buzzword. What made Goodwill so forward-thinking?

Jim: Goodwill is often referred to as “the original social enterprise” particularly by leading social entrepreneurs in the field such as Jim Fruchterman. Goodwill’s roots are deeply established in the belief of the human potential of dignity and self-sufficiency, and in an early learning that the people we serve want a “hand up, not a hand out.” Our founder, Reverend Edgar J. Helms, engrained in our culture his strongly held belief that we must challenge the status quo and be “dissatisfied until every person with a disability or disadvantage has an opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.” This drives the entrepreneurial spirit that exists at every independent, community-based Goodwill agency, allowing them to continually adapt and reinvent themselves in order to meet the needs of local communities.

Nell: How do you think an “old-fashioned” nonprofit like Goodwill fits into this growing social innovation movement? How do you make sure Goodwill is part of that movement and doesn’t get left behind?

Jim: The Goodwill brand is a household name and fortunately still leads efforts in social entrepreneurism, community collaborations and innovation. By staying ahead of the curve, we don’t fall behind. Goodwills are relentless in their desire to understand and meet the needs of the diverse local communities in which they operate. Goodwills challenge themselves to remain relevant and meaningful to the three million people we collectively serve each year. Goodwills across the United States and Canada have found the sweet spot of uniting enterprise with caring, ensuring that our social enterprise model is optimized in a way that empowers people and builds communities that work.

Nell: Goodwill has many more competitors these days than it did 10 years ago, particularly from for-profit competitors. How do you manage the competitive landscape and is it having a negative effect on your model?

Jim: As a market leader in this space, Goodwill always keeps its eye on external forces. We use our social enterprise model to advance millions of people who might not otherwise have the tools or help to succeed in life. We admire legitimate and credible nonprofits that leverage similar models to achieve their mission. While we do not condone the practices of those who market themselves to the public as something they are not, we welcome fair and honest competition, as we have earned the trust and support of more than 66 million customers as well as the people we serve every day. Goodwill earns the trust of shoppers by providing excellent value for their hard earned money. In addition, we earn the trust of donors through the assurance that we maximize the value of their donations in order to return the most benefit to the people we serve in local communities. At Goodwill, your donations generate opportunities for people to achieve economic stability, and build strong families and vibrant communities by offering job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs, such as financial education and youth mentoring. In addition, 84 percent of Goodwill’s revenues go directly into these programs, so members of the public can be sure that their donation(s) will have a direct impact on the people in your community. Last year, Goodwill’s retail enterprise revenues grew more than 12.5 percent, indicating that the public, even with increased for-profit competition, still values and trusts Goodwill.

In addition, we plan to remain a market leader through responsible community leadership. Across the United States and in Canada, we are working with municipalities and local governments to ensure that misleading donation bins are clearly marked so that the public is aware of whether or not their donations go to help someone in need, or if they simply add to a company’s profits. We also teach donors to check out a charity’s legitimacy and revenue information about overhead and administrative costs by contacting their attorney general or secretary of state’s office, a charity rating agency such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar, or online resources such as GreatNonprofits or Philanthropedia.

Nell: What do you do at Goodwill to continually innovate and reinvent the model? How is it possible to continue to innovate at a 100+ year old organization?

Jim: It’s not only possible to innovate, it’s necessary if we want to remain a leader in our market. At Goodwill, we don’t think of innovation as the creation of the next iPhone, but rather as the next idea that allows us to serve the communities we’re a part of in the most meaningful and impactful way. For example, at the Goodwill Industries of South Florida (Miami), they innovate every day and put thousands of people with disabilities back to work. People with disabilities enrolled in their programs learn apparel manufacturing, flag manufacturing, document destruction, and janitorial services. The Goodwill offers a broad range of flexible business solutions to private and public companies, while helping their employees achieve their independence. And it doesn’t stop there. We are committed to customizing the assistance workers need to achieve their peak performance, and we encourage them to continue to advance in their careers.

In Winston-Salem, NC, and Eugene, OR, (Goodwill Industries of Lane and South Coast Counties), we deploy ’Prosperity Centers’ that optimize community resources and drive community collaboration for the benefit of the people. Prosperity Centers are dedicated to assisting people in the community to succeed financially. That doesn’t just mean helping workers find jobs; it means giving them all the tools they need to build financial security and independence once they have a job, including resume-writing assistance, skills assessment, career counseling, access to computer and high-speed internet, and help with interviewing skills and financial counseling. At each of these centers, financial professionals talk to participants about their financial goals, and help them come up with a personal plan to meet those goals, whether that’s regularly paying their bills on time, reducing personal debt, starting savings to go to school, or investing in a big purchase like a car or home. With like-minded agencies partnering together, they are able to harness their resources, eliminate redundancies, strengthen their impact, focus the delivery of their services to meet the needs of local communities, and have a meaningful impact on their citizens.

At the San Francisco Goodwill, we’ve deployed the “Back On Track” program. A partnership with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the Family Services Agency, “Back On Track” provides intensive case management to individuals who have been arrested for a non-violent, first-time drug sale felony. Goodwill provides job readiness workshops, case management, career advising, life skills workshops and job training and education placement. For every individual we train, we save the government an estimated $20,000 in jail/prison costs. This program has a less than 10 percent recidivism rate – compared to a 75 percent rate with other programs.

In Cincinnati, the Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, paves an example for other service organizations that provide services to veterans. One hundred percent of the veterans they serve are homeless, and many have physical disabilities or mental health issues such as PTSD and TBI. Each veteran has a case manager who works with him or her to develop an individualized program plan. The Goodwill provides transitional housing for these veterans and strives to provide services to them in a holistic manner in order to achiever lasting success, a return to family, community and self-sufficient living. All of these innovative examples are shared across the Goodwill network, and modified and adapted to best meet the needs of local communities.

Nell: Goodwill is pretty active in the social media space and in fact you do a fair bit of Tweeting yourself (@jdgibbons). How have you integrated social media into your mission? What does it allow you to do?

Jim: Goodwill is a networked enterprise where the local Goodwills make up the heart and soul of the brand, and they participate in social media with aligned brand messages that communicate their local activities and impact. We’ve integrated social media into our global and national communication strategies in a powerful way because it’s an awesome tool for educating people about our brand. And we’re giving attention to having real conversations at the level that is important to our stakeholders and builds relationships with them.

Nell: You were recently appointed by President Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions, which is a pretty interesting group working on bringing the public, private and nonprofit sectors together to solve problems. What is that group working on and what results are you seeing so far?

Jim: It’s exciting to work with a group of leaders from a variety of sectors to raise awareness on how collaborations solve problems in a profound way. Recently, the Council announced its commitment to expand job opportunities for youth through the White House Summer Jobs+ initiative. The initiative is a call-to-action for businesses, nonprofits and the government to provide opportunities for youth to obtain life skills, education, training, and social supports that are relevant for long-term employment, and to work together to provide pathways to employment for youth ages 16-24 (referred to as ‘opportunity youth’) who are low-income or face disadvantages to finding employment and related opportunities.

Goodwill will be supporting the Summer Jobs+ program by hiring 1,200 youth ages 16 to 24. Goodwills across the country will also provide more than 3,200 youth with life skills services, including communications, time management and teamwork; more than 2,300 youth will receive work skills services. In addition, 2,000 youth will be provided learn and earn opportunities, where they will gain the ability to acquire their first paid employment position, either through the form of paid internships or permanent positions that provide on-the-job training at Goodwill locations. Thousands of additional youth will also be provided with virtual career mentoring and exploration services.

The Summer Jobs+ initiative was created in response to research that shows that at least one in six young people ages 16-24 are disconnected from the two systems that offer the greatest hope for their future: school and work.

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Data and the Future of Philanthropy: An Interview with Lucy Bernholz

In the August installment of our Social Velocity interview series, we are talking with Lucy Bernholz, founder and President of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc. a strategy consulting firm for philanthropic institutions and individuals. She is also the author of many seminal books (including the prescient Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets), reports (like Disrupting Philanthropy) and her famous Philanthropy 2173 blog. Lucy is considered a visionary in the philanthropic world and is doing tremendous work to move philanthropy forward.

Our interview with Lucy is below, but you can also read our past interviews with Kevin Jones, Clara Miller, and Paul Tarini.

Nell: You have become increasingly interested in data sharing and crowd-sourcing for change. What are the risks in these new forms of social problem solving?

Lucy: Data are not objective – quantitative data is subjectively collected, categorized, sourced, and analyzed and its “reputation” as neutral is unearned. Using data well requires skills that most of us don’t have – statistical analysis, methods, etc.

That said, when I talk about data I mean “anything that can be digitized.” Stories. Video. Anecdotes. Numbers.  We may not all have all the skills to make sense of every type of data, that is partly why crowds are important. For decades, only experts and the wealthy had access to data – so their subjective analyses dominated the discussion. Now, many of us – crowds – can have access, make sense of, add nuance, ask questions. That changes the “subjectivity” and changes the dynamic. Data are disruptive when access to them is broad, cheap, and easy.

We still need to be skeptical, ask questions, and think deeply about the biases behind both data collection and presentation. But, as computer programmers say, “many eyes make for shallow bugs.” Crowds and data are two sides of the same coin when it comes to disrupting the social sector.

Nell: In Disrupting Philanthropy you examine the long tails of donors (foundation and individual contributors of money for social change) and doers (nonprofits, social entrepreneurs receiving that money) and how information technology is connecting the two. But as a future teller, how and when do you see more conservative/fearful nonprofits and philanthropists embracing these new technologies?  What is the tipping point?

Lucy: There are few pressures on endowed foundations to change their behavior. It is hard to force this change from the outside.

The drivers of change in this day and age include new expectations about information at a societal level, the government 2.0 movement, the skills of two to three generations of employees and managers in using online tools and finding information when they want it. These are the soft, cultural, and ultimately most meaningful drivers of change. Regulations that require more disclosure, new expectations of transparency, efforts such as The Foundation Centers, the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s assessments are other possible influencers of the timeline.

That said, don’t discount the inevitable backlash against transparency, which is coming. Recent online “revelations” that have been fueled by political agendas and resulted in “flash decision making” highlight the need for all of us to be careful about the pace of information, believing everything we read, and the need for thoughtful, investigative, well-referenced and fact checked information. As Craig Newmark says, the news business is the “immune system of democracy.” As the news business is caught in this wildly transformative moment, we must all consider where we get our information, how we use it, who provided it to us, and what its credibility is. There is no straight line to widespread adoption of new tools – it is episodic and includes strange diversions.

Nell: Where does government fit into the connection between donors and doers? What can/should government do to encourage use of data sharing, crowd-sourcing, etc.?

Lucy: The government 2.0 movement is way ahead of nonprofits and foundations in the open sharing of data. That said, most of this is a “supply side” effort at this point – cities, states, and federal agencies shoveling data over the wall into the public domain with little knowledge of what information communities want or need and even less support for communities to use the information well. Firehousing data into the public domain is one thing, but it is not enough (It can also work to distract – “You want data? Here have it all”)

As for nonprofits and foundations, the data disclosure requirements of the new 990 are small steps in the right direction. Most of what will happen as far as nonprofits and foundations sharing their data is likely to be voluntary, led by innovators, and taken up by others over time as communities and constituents learn to ask for what they want. The expanding ecosystem of nonprofit ratings/raters – from GiveWell to Greater Nonprofits to Philanthropedia to National Councils of Nonprofit Analysts, etc. will also spur this.

The proposed legislation, HR 5533, which calls for a national council on nonprofits and a central system for tracking nonprofits as funded by federal agencies is the wildcard here – if it passes, the data game on nonprofits and philanthropy will change. How so, and whether for the better, I can’t say at this time because I just don’t know enough (yet) about what is being proposed, how it is supposed to work, and how it will really work (if enacted).

Nell: As you mention in Disrupting Philanthropy, 10 years ago socially responsible investment was a small niche, but now it makes up 10% of professionally managed investment funds. How much bigger will it grow? How much can mission and money be blended in our economy?

Lucy: Socially responsible screened assets have been growing for more than a decade. This is a multi-decade trend that is growing mostly outside of the realm of the charitable and philanthropic sector and within the realm, incentives, and returns of the mutual fund business. Philanthropic efforts to connect to these assets and to promote Mission Related, Program Related spending are only now getting real traction and advocacy from within philanthropy.

Nell: Your focus is largely on philanthropy, but what do you think nonprofits should be doing to tap into these trends and take advantage of the long tails of donors and doers?

Lucy: Nonprofits are experimenting with every tool to reach the long tail that they can – from “donate now” buttons to text giving. For the most part, the process has been focused on marketing and fundraising. The exciting changes are happening where we see people developing solutions that take the digital connectivity and data as the starting point for the work they are trying to do – think about Ushahidi or CrisisCommons – their entire programs/projects/initiatives/governance models/organizations are built on deep understanding of the power of disbursed long tails. That is powerful.

Nell:  Because you are such a proponent of data and measurement, what do you make of the emotional part of giving? Do you think we can ever get to a place where it’s all about the data? And should we want to?

Lucy: I have always said that philanthropy is a business of passion – it is largely emotional. The use of data, as Hope Neighbor’s recent report shows, is a small part of the process of philanthropic decision making. And it will always happen within the personal interests of donors. And please remember, when I say data, I don’t mean just numbers.

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