Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Old ideas, new flagpoles

I just had lunch with an old friend. In addition to catching up on life over the last many years, he and I had a great chat about philanthropy and what is possible. I'd been out of touch with him during a period when I'd run several ideas up several flag poles, only a few of which made it to the top and stuck at the time.

However, some of them resonated with him. We covered topics from changing consumer expectations, new abilities to share data, the changing scale of philanthropic dollars, the new dynamics of global economies, shifting sectoral relationships, the opportunities for product/service businesses, the best delivery mechanisms for certain social goods, and the role of public and private - and how all of the above relate to options for activists and donors. (Typical lunch time banter)

So here are some of the old ideas. By old I mean within the last decade. Do any of these resonate with you?

1. Philanthropy needs more efficient ways of sharing content and analysis on social issues and solutions.
2. Leveraging other resources (attracting "other people's money") to issues of concern and strategies that work should matter to philanthropists - and they might be interested in tools/resources to do this.
3. There are roles to play in addressing global social issues for all sectors - commercial enterprise, independent organizations, individual activists, and the public sector - but all too often 'solutions' are developed within one sector without adequate/meaningful connections to or leverage on the others.
4. Metrics and benchmarks that help donors develop a portfolio of giving options would be useful. Knowing how to develop strategy that considers the effectiveness of different philanthropic vehicles (social enterprise, foundations, DAFs, shareholder activism, investing strategies, volunteer time, etc.) requires metrics that get at commitment and impact, not just costs or ROI.
5. We are hopeful.

I'm going to go back through the files and dig up some of my old work on giving portfolios, social investment reports, and metrics. Maybe the time has come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Posted on behalf of a foundation executive friend:

Here’s an idea that I’ve been shopping for some time, but gotten no takers. You’re welcome to use it on your blog, if you like.

To adapt a conservative idea for a progressive application, I’d love to see foundations give “vouchers” to individuals in the target population they aim to serve It’s one way to remind foundations that their “customers” are not grantees. Foundations need to view as customers the individuals and families to which some benefit is expected to accrue. Grantees are just the retailers in the social change equation.

Current practice equates success with having good wholesaler-retail relations. These grantee satisfaction surveys are feeding this (I have an alternative I’ll share with you one day).

Foundations park their money with grantees, which frees grantees to hold onto a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the target individuals and families. It’s all supply side.

To correct the alignment and to empower individuals, foundations could skip force the retailers (nonprofits) to compete for the favor of individuals and families. The approach is most obvious in arts grant making. Instead of funding arts groups who try to persuade folks to consume what they are selling, foundations could provide vouchers to low-income families to redeem at any of a number of participating arts groups. For every voucher received, the arts group would be reimbursed from a central fund. This would not only solve most of the mystery of increasing arts participation (i.e., how to make them take what we’re delivering?), it would empower individuals and spark sectorwide change.

Apart from arts, the model would be interesting in many human service settings, from nonprofit child care to job training. The approach might even fuel more co-ops. If funder offered all parents in a low-income neighborhood a voucher to redeem at an eligible child-care agency, then agencies might have a critical mass of an income stream to make it worthwhile to offer services in that neighborhood.