I love a good, contrarian viewpoint. It’s not because I relish conflict or have a knee-jerk sympathy for the underdog. I’ve just seen how a good contrarian viewpoint, when offered in the spirit of doing the right thing, is a beacon to a better path forward. The past two weeks have brought some great examples of folks choosing to zig while the world zags:
End the Overhead Myth
Recently, the leaders of the major sources of information on nonprofits—GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance—wrote an open Letter to the Donors of America with an invitation to join the pledge to end the overhead myth. In the letter, the authors emphasize that…
I currently serve on the board of Guidestar and have been an advisor to Charity Navigator—two nonprofits often faulted for enabling the rise of the overhead ratio in the first place. But the world was different then. Unless you were already an insider, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get information on a nonprofit. At that time, the contrarian view was that there should be some transparency into the nonprofit sector. Now that transparency is expected, let’s move away from a focus on what nonprofits spend and towards a focus on what nonprofits achieve.
Scale down, not up
This week, my colleague Carra Cote-Ackah is representing our team at the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impact, a gathering of funders and practitioners interested in understanding how to scale up social impact. Yet at lunch last week, I found myself equally intrigued by the response I received from a fellow participant at GEO’s Learning Conference. I sat next to a woman who leads a family foundation. When I asked her what she most wanted to learn at this learning conference, she surprised me with the following response
“Everyone seems to be fixated on scaling up. They want to know, ‘How do we take this promising pilot or model and make it happen on a bigger, bolder scale?’ What I want to know is:
How do you scale down? How do you take practices that are implemented by large, well-resourced organizations and adapt them to achieve results in smaller, more resource-poor settings?“
Is less just less?
Finally, in the age of twitter, texts, speed-dating, and presentations considered too long when clocked at 20 minutes, Michael Quinn Patton’s closing plenary remarks were wonderfully contrarian and provocative. He suggested that the conference, with its emphasis on quick, short presentations was less about learning and more an exercise in panel voyeurism. He challenged grant makers in the audience to consider what it would mean to spend 3+ hours working the same case with the same people before moving on. Would more real learning and real connections result?
Perhaps I’m drawn to the contrarian because, after being told too many times, that “donors don’t really care about impact”, I sense a kindred spirit. For the sake of the nonprofit sector and the communities it serves, here’s to turning that supposedly contrarian view—that donors care about impact—into a new and accepted reality.
The countdown is on for the remaining days of school—for the majority of U.S. kids, June means school is out and summer is here. And while a more relaxed summer schedule is often a welcome change for both kids and parents, finding productive, fun activities for kids can be a challenge.
This challenge is particularly daunting for low-income families, who cannot afford many of the high quality options available to their children’s wealthier peers. In fact, as this video illustrates, the uneven distribution of opportunities for poor children over the summer is a significant factor affecting overall performance in school.
It is not just learning that suffers, either. A study “The Effect of School on Overweight in Childhood” (Von Hippel et al, 2007) found that most children—but particularly those more prone to obesity—tend to gain weight more rapidly when on summer break. Kids who rely on free and reduced school lunches for a substantial portion of their nutrition are also at risk of hunger.
What you can do to help:
Support extended learning time
So what can donors do? Fortunately, lots. On the school side, donors can support schools and/or school schedules that extend learning time and stagger vacations to minimize learning gaps. For example, a model for school redesign to improve the learning environment for teachers and students is found in Generation Schools.
A wide range of nonprofit organizations provide quality summer programming for low-income kids at low or no cost. Examples include:
Support summer meal programs
Organizations such as Share Our Strength work on expanding summer meal options in low-income communities.
Support access to information and technology
Some states have taken the lead on the summer learning issue. The Wyoming Department of Education and MetaMetrics partnered to form the Find a Book, Wyoming and The Summer Math Challenge programs which use adaptive technology—an interesting example of an initiative in this regard. However, its use by poorer families may be constrained by lack of both information and access to broadband technology at home. Donors could play a role here in helping to ensure information and access for those who need it most.
Donors can also help raise awareness of the summer learning gap within their communities, and push for additional resources and programs to address it. The Summer Learning Advocates campaign offers tips on how to be an effective advocate on the issue, while the Summer Matters campaign in California is an example of a state-wide campaign in action.
Looking for a worthy and high impact summer project? Help make summer count for all kids.
For more information about preventing summer learning loss:
- The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has a good summary of what helps, research, and program suggestions.
- Reading is Fundamental has a one-page primer on summer reading loss and approaches to combat it.
- The National Summer Learning Association has provided a Did You Know? list of the effects of summer learning loss.
Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 was the first #GivingTuesday™—started as a day to celebrate giving—following the consumer spending activities of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We are now at the six-month mark before the next one on Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
Henry Timms is the creator of the #GivingTuesday movement and is the Deputy Executive Director of the 92nd Street Y as well as co-producer of the Social Good Summit. We were introduced to Henry by Eileen Heisman, President/CEO of National Philanthropic Trust, during his visit to lecture for her class at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice.
We asked him about the purpose of #GivingTuesday, lessons learned from last year’s activities, and what to look forward to this year and beyond. This the first part of our Q&A with Henry, with more to follow leading up to this year’s giving season.
You can also listen to a brief audio clip of Henry chatting with our founding executive director, Kat Rosqueta, as they discuss keeping on the “good path” through creativity, authenticity, and storytelling within the #GivingTuesday community.
AW: What do you see as the ultimate goal of #GivingTuesday?
HT: That will be for the community to decide for themselves. Our goal was to be a part of a community that would grow in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are known in the national consciousness. #GivingTuesday had a good impact in Year One but there’s a long way to go.
From a social media perspective, we did about half the traffic of Cyber Monday, and about a third of the traffic of Black Friday. That was quite interesting—that we became a credible bronze medal—but we have a long way to go.
I was at a class at Wharton, and I was asking that class about who had heard of #GivingTuesday—out of 30 of them, maybe 4 hands went up. So it wasn’t as if this has scaled to such a degree that everybody knows about it. We have a lot of building to do.
AW: Are you planning to measure the impact of #GivingTuesday, and if so, how are you planning to do that?
HT: We’ve seen some really interesting measurements coming back. Our initial goal from a partnership perspective had been to get over 100 partners from across the country. We saw 2,500 in total at the end of the campaign, which was amazing—a first metric from our perspective. We also were thinking a lot about national reach, so all 50 states participating was a really important thing for us.
What was also fun was when we needed 3 states to get to 50, a lot of people in the #GivingTuesday community started pushing and encouraging people in those states—a very interesting community approach.
We thought a lot about the data we’ve received from our partners. Obviously, measurement was critical to this, so one of the things we asked from our partners was, “how effective was your #GivingTuesday campaign?” We got a lot of data back, and actually some very encouraging measurements from our partners in terms of what they saw throughout the day and throughout the season. We also saw some very good year-on-year numbers around how much online giving increased.
A number of different platforms measured around a 50% increase against the same day of the year before, which was a good number for Year One and does give us a nice benchmark for this point. One of the things that #GivingTuesday was helpful in was helping organizations tell stories, which encouraged new people to get engaged with some of their work. I think we’ll see some more of that in the future.
AW: There’s a recurring gift if they come back—like on a website, you have new vs. returning visitors—it’s a good way to start tracking.
HT: I think that’s right, and that actually leads to another point from the surveys we’ve done. We expect around 95% of the people who took part last year to commit to take part again. That was an interesting sign of the levels of enthusiasm, and was a healthy number. That felt like an endorsement.
AW: In regards to the audience, if you do a search on Twitter for #GivingTuesday, you can see people having conversations. Obviously, the main audience for this movement is people working in the nonprofit sector who are already operating in the space. Do you have any kind of data on “everyday” people who got involved, or maybe people who are the beneficiaries of the nonprofits that are raising money?
HT: I think that’s the right question, and it’s one of the things that we’ve heard. #GivingTuesday has events all around the country where we’ll meet with the sector leaders and really just ask two questions:
- What ideas do you have to take this movement to scale?
- What do you think your organization could be thinking about in terms of your #GivingTuesday participation?
That has led to so many interesting ideas. One of those ideas is around #GivingTuesday being the day in which people would make commitment to yearlong activities, which is to say, “On #GivingTuesday, I commit to a monthly contribution to Save the Children;” or “On #GivingTuesday, you launched your first payroll giving scheme;” or “On #GivingTuesday you made a pledge to increase your giving for the year by 15%…” whatever it may be. There are different organizations working on that idea now—it’s a big idea, and if we see people pledging longer-term activity, that would be a very powerful thing.
Part 2, coming next month with a discussion about the Giving Pledge, celebrity involvement, and more!
The CLASSY Awards—which aim to highlight the impact of nonprofit organizations, socially-conscious businesses, and individuals engaged in charitable work—are scheduled for May 2-3, 2014 in San Diego. Since our mission at the Center is to move more money to more good, we spend much of our time identifying cost-effective programs and approaches that have evidence of impact. When we learned of the CLASSY Awards, we were interested in how the winners were picked—and Pat Walsh, co-founder of the CLASSY’s, was happy to fill us in on the process.
AW: How has the judging process for the CLASSY’s evolved over the years—from the first awards in 2009 to last year’s 2012 awards?
PW: In the first year, the CLASSY Awards Winners were determined solely by a public vote. This was a great way to gauge public opinion, but it created a disadvantage for organizations that might not have large online supporter bases. Our intention has always been to recognize organizations based on the merit of their impact, not strictly their popularity, so we’ve continually evolved the process to incorporate more objective judging criteria and perspective.
Today we have a very comprehensive process that includes several phases:
- First, an initial qualification through Guidestar charity checks and verification of good standing with the IRS.
- Second, a public vote component weighted equally with a vote from previous CLASSY Awards winners.
- Finally, the winners are determined by a panel of the top charitable leaders and social innovators from around the world, known as the CLASSY Awards Leadership Council.
AW: Impact, Originality, and Category Fit are three criteria used in the Regional and National judging for the 2012 Awards. Can you describe what you look for in each of those areas?
PW: Sure. We’ve been honored to have thousands of organizations from around the country participate in the CLASSYs, and that participation led us to these three major criteria. I’ll take Free Wheelchair Mission, winner of the CLASSY Award for Health & Well Being, and show why the Leadership Council felt they exemplified those three criteria.
Impact – Has the organization achieved tangible results, and how profound is their impact relative to the scope of the problem they’re addressing?
- FWM’s impact can be measured both by qualitative and quantitative standards. To date, they have distributed over 640,000 wheelchairs to 84 countries. Their lasting impact on international health is seen in the improved lives of those given mobility, and thus the opportunity to do the things they could not do before.
Originality – Does the organization have a unique focus, service, or history that sets them apart?
- FWM’s model is not only unique, but their approach is scalable. They began with a basic wheelchair using elements already being produced in high volume—a resin lawn chair, a custom steel frame, and a pair of mountain bike tires. The wheelchair costs $71.88 to manufacture, ship, and distribute. This approach caught our eye because it was innovative—they were truly trying to reach as many people as possible.
Category Fit – Does the organization truly reflect the intention of the category?
- For Health & Well Being, we were looking for an organization that has made significant impact in improving health across the globe, whether it be through direct services, research or education. FWM’s contribution to international healthcare was creating and donating free wheelchairs for the impoverished and disabled in developing nations, which aligned perfectly with the category.
AW: “Collective Impact” is a recent buzzword and there are online platforms emerging (e.g. Charting Impact, PerformWell) aimed at encouraging nonprofits to become more data-driven. How can the CLASSY’s contribute to this growing landscape?
PW: The need for publicly-available, quantifiable data to measure program outputs, outcomes and “collective impact” has never been more critical for the the social sector, and it’s a need that we’re actively looking to address this year. Our goal is to work with our partners—nonprofits, social enterprises and the Leadership Council—to identify the key indices for evaluating social performance, and incorporate those criteria into the CLASSY Awards process. The result will be a unique set of publicly-available, impact relevant information on the social landscape.
AW: Can you describe the types of key indices or where you’re pulling information—perhaps list a few names of partnering organizations?
PW: The performance information we’re collecting will be unique content generated by the organizations themselves, not necessarily pulled from any specific database.
Regarding partnerships: we’re looking to solidify many of our major partnerships in the next month or two, so I’d prefer not to list any names just yet. However, feel free to reflect on our major partners from this year’s CLASSY Awards.
AW: What are your plans over the next few years for impacting the nonprofit “information economy”?
PW: There are many ongoing discussions about the need for greater transparency and data availability in the nonprofit sector, particularly as a mechanism for more informed funding decisions. Ultimately, these conversations boil down to one key point: there is no globally-accepted, standardized methodology for collecting relevant performance information on nonprofit organizations. The challenges with existing platforms is that they require extensive amounts of qualitative information, which is difficult to collect at a scalable level. The platforms that do incorporate quantitative data focus primarily on the financial data from the Form 990, which only tells a partial story of a nonprofit’s performance.
I think we have the opportunity to address these challenges by displaying the information we’re collecting in a simple, metrics-driven profile. This is a significant endeavor, particularly as you look at the various types of nonprofit programs across cause categories. It will be a continually evolving process, but our hope is that this model can provide a comprehensive perspective of the global social landscape in a way that hasn’t been done before.
AW: Can you describe the type of data you are collecting?
PW: Currently we collect quantifiable information on the problem that the organization is addressing, and the scope of their impact in a given year. We recognized that while this was a good start, it fell short of capturing the true metrics that are critical to evaluating social performance, specifically program outputs and outcomes. Therefore, this year we’re expanding on the information that we’ll be collecting.
As part of our field-building efforts to strengthen the philanthropic and nonprofit sector, we stay updated on emerging activities and initiatives like that of the CLASSY Awards. To help donors in their decision-making, our Center continues to learn more about best practices for measuring and reporting impact. For example, we inform initiatives and working groups such as Charting Impact and PerformWell, we reference the work of Mario Morino and David Hunter, we report on how organizations are using data for greater impact in the developing world, and are currently expanding upon our work with the Social Impact Analytics Initiative.