Evaluation & Metrics

When Philanthropists Get It Wrong

October 15, 2013

Economist Zoltan Acs, who has made his academic mark mostly by thinking and writing about entrepreneurship, has lately trained his lens on philanthropy, in an engaging book called Why Philanthropy Matters. Appropriately, for a scholar of the entrepreneurial impulse, Professor Acs spends much of his book talking about the kind of philanthropy practiced by wealthy and successful people during their lifetime, and how that kind of enterprising philanthropy benefits society.


Feeling the Pressures of a Limited Life

August 7, 2013

 Leadership changes, strategic reviews, the closing of some programs and a fresh emphasis on others — all these are part of the normal cycle at just about any foundation. They may feel momentous at the time, but at most foundations, where endowments last indefinitely, the drama soon fades and life returns to normal. There’s always time to reconsider decisions, correct mistakes, try a fresh approach.


Learning and Adapting Better in Today's Rapidly Changing Landscape

August 2, 2010

I focused last week on a couple of the ways that funders can begin to “act bigger” in today’s more networked and interconnected landscape for public problem solving. But I want to also give a quick preview of the other major way in which we believe funders will need to improve over the coming decade: “adapting better.”

Calling All Billionaires: Cut the Red Tape

July 20, 2010

Ask a group of nonprofit leaders what bugs them most in their dealings with foundations, and I’ll bet you dollars-to-donuts someone will mention the onerous administrative requirements tied to many grants. For the Friends of Buffett and Gates (FOBGs) who are considering the challenge to give away half of their wealth, I therefore have a simple request: Make sure the application and reporting processes you create are guided by practicality and mutual need, rather than your lawyers’ cautionary tales.

Elements of a New Paradigm: Evaluation

February 11, 2010

The shift away from a philanthropic paradigm based on demonstration projects and government-sponsored replication has also fundamentally altered the role of evaluation in philanthropy.
In the past, evaluation may have been the lynchpin to scaling social impact by proving the effectiveness of a particular intervention and thereby providing the justification for large-scale funding from government or other sources. (Although it has never been clear exactly who those “other sources” might be!)

Philanthropy and the Path of Least Resistance

January 28, 2010

Is there anything more frightening to foundations than democracy? I don’t mean the kind you pay for through projects, but the kind that enables people to participate in decisions that affect them, including decisions about philanthropy. If philanthropy is "private funding in the public interest," it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask that the public has some say in defining how its interests are identified and met. Yet there is no way they can do this at present.

Why "Social Capital Markets" Could Be a Really Bad Idea

January 26, 2010

A common assumption of the "new philanthropy" is that "social capital markets" will separate effective from ineffective organizations by forcing nonprofits to compete with each other for scarce resources, allocated according to standardized criteria. I think it’s much more likely that important work in civil society will be marginalized, leading to less social change, not more. How come?


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