Mixing data with your values

I've written a lot about how data can transform giving. The November 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review includes a compelling feature story about how this is true at some of the country's biggest foundations. Written by staff from The Bridgespan Group, "Galvanizing Philanthropy" looks at the relationships between data, timing, strategy, and external feedback. The article provides several examples and points out the common mistakes of relying on "evidence too early" or "values and beliefs too late."

The importance of this insight is even bigger than the HBR piece emphasizes, in my opinion. By focusing on the relationship between data and values, and looking at when and how they are best used, the article reminds us that there is much about philanthropy that is neither rational nor data-driven. While foundations are making progress in terms of sharing information, using data, and even seeking external feedback, there are limits to how rational and empirical (and strategic) these enterprises will ever be. It is easy to lose sight of this, given the current zeitgeist about market forces, the power of technology, new measurement systems, and so on.

"Galvanizing Philanthropy" is well worth a read. HBR subscribers will find it in their November issues. Others can request a free reprint directly from Bridgespan by emailing Chris.Lindquist [at] bridgespan[dot] org. Tell him Lucy sent you.


Lucy Bernholz said...

For more on data and values and decision making, see this post from Seth Godin (HT to Kyle R)

"When Data and Decisions Collide"

Anonymous said...

The charity 'Raising Malawi' (PR firm) founded by Madonna, Michael Berg, and Monica Berg in '06', held fund raisers for over two years before finally getting registered as a non-profit. In other words, Madonna and the others were free to squander that funding any way they saw fit for those first two years. In fact, they still havn't accounted for the 3.7 million raised from a single event in early '08' (The grand opening of a Gucci flagship store in Manhattan.). She also pleaded with her fans worldwide for donations along the way. In the meantime, she toured the world to promote her latest CD and raked in another $400,000,000 gross in just over 12 months. To date, the basic financial info for 'Raising Malawi' still hasn't been posted on the website or anywhere else. The 'progress' page only tells of the collective works by over 20 seperate charities. Each of which have their own sources of funding and may have recieved some sort of promotion or support from 'Raising Malawi' in order to be considered 'partners'. But no indication is made how much of their funding came from 'Raising Malawi' or how much of their progress if any could be directly attributed to 'Raising Malawi'. The fans/donors have no clue how many millions of dollars were raised in that first two years, no clue how much Madonna herself chipped in, and no clue how the money was spent before they finally registered as a non-profit. No clue what fraction of funding or works listed on that 'progress' page could be directly attributed to 'Raising Malawi'. Nothing to go on but the vague and misleading word of Madonna. For example: She states in her latest promotional video that she will match any contributions made to her charity (PR firm) "dollar for dollar". However, there is a disclaimer posted on the website for 'Raising Malawi' that Madonna's total contribution will not exceed $100,000. Thats not per donation. Thats a maximum of $100,000 TOTAL. Less than a single days pay for Madonna. Also much less then she will surely rake in by promoting her own CDs, DVDs, books, and 'for profit' merchandise through this massive worldwide publicity stunt. So I called the office of 'Raising Malawi' in an attempt to verify some sort of efficient financial operation (310) 867-2881 or (888) 72-DONOR). These details are ALWAYS made available by legitimate charities. But not in this case. I got nothing but recorded messages and hangups. So I did some research on my own. 'Raising Malawi' still hasn't been given any kind of rating by ANY independent charity watchdog like Charitywatch.org. The vast overwhelming majority of 'celebrity' foundations never are. In general, they are inneficient and riddled with corruption. Like the promotion of CDs, world tours, commercial websites, entire lines of jewelry (not just the single piece from which proceeds are donated), and high end retail flagship stores. Its far less expensive to promote your image and product with a contribution to your own charity (PR firm) than it is to buy commercial airtime worldwide. This is why its become such a trend. Celebrity foundations are also notorious for squandering much of their funding on private jet rides and super high end accomodations for their celebrity figure heads. Its legal even for a nonprofit but not noble or efficient by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, non-profits are not actually required by law to be efficient. This is why the independent rating is so important. In general, 'celebrity' foundations never even get one. They are a twisted inefficient mutant of charity, self-promotion, exotic travel, marketing, and PR crap. Still, they compete for funding with more efficient legitimate charities. The celebrity figure heads often disregard the primary donors, co-founders, and managers, take personal credit for any collective work done, and seek maximum publicity shortly before or after the release of their own commercial projects. Its a sham. So if its not rated, then don't support it. Instead, support a top rated charity like any of those given high ratings at Charitywatch.org.