The ever-growing complexity of our social sector, together with the power of the Internet and the disengagement of government, has created a decentralized model of social change. As a result, the linear logic models and theories of change that are anchored in the old paradigm no longer match reality.
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!)
Multiple elements of a new paradigm have emerged, although they have not yet gelled into a coherent alternative to the old paradigm and, therefore, have not yet replaced it.
Given the rise of neoliberalism over the last twenty years—the extension of the market into every sphere of life—it’s no surprise that civil society has begun to receive the same attention. Large parts of politics and government, health care and education, knowledge production and the media have already been overtaken, but civil society, one could argue, is a more important case because it’s the ground from which alternatives can grow.
Over the past year, the Obama Administration has ushered into the American political dynamic a number of changes in how government, at least at the federal level, does business. Some changes reflect shifts in government’s relationship to the nonprofit sector, a few trends meriting special attention:
Today, in my final post, I want to offer specific suggestions for Intrepid Philanthropists who want to maximize the upsides of transparency.
I want to start about by acknowledging—transparently—that my preaching below is ahead of my practice. These suggestions represent an amalgam of what I’ve observed from some of the country’s most forward-thinking grantmakers. No one grantmaker that we’re aware of does all of these things.
Do social entrepreneurs and their ventures fail? You bet! Do philanthropists? Of course! Unfortunately, you probably don’t hear much about either’s flops, fiascos, and total failures. Why? For some pretty simple reasons: social entrepreneurs hesitate to speak publicly for fear of being labeled as “difficult,” while philanthropists have something of a “do no harm” credo to which they, consciously or unconsciously, subscribe.