The Top Ten Posts of 2012

December 27, 2012

fireworksAs the year quickly draws to a close, here’s a look back at some of the most popular content on the Philanthropy Potluck Blog in 2012.

Have a look to get a refresher or catch up on the ones you missed!

  1. Measuring the Value in Social Media Dashboards, metrics and insights for measuring internal and external values, while always tying it all back to high-level organizational goals.
  2. Visualizing Philanthropy: Storytelling with Data Takeaways from an MCF program with Cole Nussbaumer, people analytics manager at Google.
  3. Connect for Health with the Blue Cross Foundation The launch of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s innovative grant program that engaged the community through a voting process.
  4. Performance Measurement: No More Excuses A first look at the new PerformWell website, designed to give nonprofits accessible, valid tools for evidence-based measurement of their work.
  5. Diversity and Donors of the Future The first blog post from Lissa Jones, MCF’s new director of diversity, equity and inclusion, looks at 12 key giving trends for nonprofits.
  6. Social Media Engagement Lessons From Knight Foundation Why are foundations seeing limited engagement from their grantees on social media? Knight Foundation’s Elizabeth Miller shared tips to turn that around.
  7. Sandy Vargas Recognized as Outstanding Citizen The Minneapolis Foundation president and CEO was honored by The Caux Round Table.
  8. The Best Free Ways to Collaborate Online Tools for project management, file sharing, online meetings and more. Also see the longer feature in Giving Forum.
  9. Karen Kelley-Ariwoola Lauded for Community Contributions A celebratory send-off for Kelley-Ariwoola as she stepped down from her role at The Minneapolis Foundation after 18 years of service.
  10. Striving to Reduce the Achievement Gap A look at the Twin Cities Strive initiative and its future impact on education grantmaking in the state.

Join the conversation: What were your favorite blog posts of 2012?

Photo cc MJIphotos

Examining the Hurdles to a Rigorous Performance Assessment

September 28, 2012

As grantmakers have been looking to increase the impact of their funding dollars, nonprofits have come under a great burden of proof to illustrate the effectiveness of their programs and initiatives. One of the most common tools for nonprofits to measure their social impact is through a performance assessment, but nonprofits often lack the resources to perform a thorough assessment and many grantmakers do not offer financial support to carry them out even as they become more influential in the grantmaking decision process.

It is important for grantmakers to understand the challenges and opportunities that nonprofits face as part of a performance assessment. Lauren Gilbert of BELL recently wrote Five Hurdles to Nonprofit Performance Assessment for the Center for Effective Philanthropy discussing her own experience. She outlined five hurdles beyond cost that nonprofits must address when going through a rigorous, independent research assessment. The hurdles included:

  • Capacity: Nonprofits do not always have the infrastructure, personnel, or experience to plan and carry out an independent performance assessment.
  • Required Partnerships: Foundations and grantmakers often assume that nonprofits can find willing community partners to assist in carrying out evaluations, but finding and maintain partnerships may be difficult.
  • Human Element: Creating a control group can often mean nonprofits must deny their services to some participants, creating real world consequences for the individuals and communities being studied. Gilbert warns nonprofits not to lose sight of the humanity involved in the testing.
  • Receptiveness: Nonprofits, policymakers and grantmakers need to be receptive to outcomes of the performance evaluations. Gilbert emphasizes that research should be utilized as more than a tool for growing funding revenue bases.
  • Imperfect Science: Measuring social impact is an imperfect science attempting to evaluate less tangible outcomes that are greatly influenced by outside factors. The constraints applied to the studies can also greatly affect the results leading to misleading conclusions in side by side comparisons. Less rigorous assessments often produce more favorable seeming results.

Grantmakers continue to develop new best practices when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of their grant dollars in the communities they seek to impact. As they do, they should keep in mind the challenges that grantees face in undergoing a performance assessment. Above all else, assessments should be focused on finding the most effective means to carry out our missions and benefit the communities we serve, not just as a way to justify more philanthropic investment.

– Kaitlin Ostlie, MCF administrative assistant

Photo cc KKfromBB

In 2020, Will Philanthropy Look Anything Like It Does Today?

January 4, 2011

Over last weekend, as one year passed and another began, I embarked on my annual tradition of drinking hot chocolate and spending some time thumbing (and scrolling) through a variety of “best (and worst) of” and “year in review” compilations. While most lists had absolutely nothing to do with work, at least one did:

Lucy Bernholz, author of the highly regarded, very insightful Philanthropy 2173 blog and founder and president of Blueprint Research and Design, looked back at how her predictions for the previous decade in philanthropy fared (1999-2009) and outlined what she thinks the next 10 years will bring.

Titled “Ten for the Next 10: 2010 – 2020,” her Philanthropy 2173 blog post has also been cross posted on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Here’s a summary of what Bernholz describes as her “premonitions on what will become familiar in philanthropy in the decade to come”:

  1. By 2020, philanthropy in the U.S. and trans-nationally is going to be operating under fundamentally different rules (laws and regulations).
  2. There will be more spend-down foundations.
  3. Foundations, philanthropists and change-making organizations will be using gaming and game pedagogy to address all types of issues.
  4. Disaster relief giving will be more structured and planned.
  5. Impact investing will surpass philanthropy.
  6. Institutional philanthropy will be more collaborative.
  7. Program people who can use data, make sense of it, and help foundation’s communicate their own data through analysis and visualization will be key going forward.
  8. Most of the foundations that exist today will exist in 2020, as will an amazing percentage of today’s nonprofits.
  9. Mobile phones will replace credit card donations.
  10. By 2020, we’ll have given up our misconception that “scale = big” and instead be focused on “scale = networked.” We will have recognized that problems get solved through “small pieces loosely coupled.”

Join the conversation on this blog or Bernholz’s: What do you think will happen by 2020? What will philanthropy look like? What can we barely imagine today that will be commonplace by then?

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

Rural Development: Philanthropy’s Secret to Success

July 27, 2010

At Philanthropy Potluck we love featuring the outstanding work of our MCF members.  Here’s a recent West Central Blogger post written by Kim Embretson, West Central Initiative vice president of development.

How do you create success in rural communities? A small group of foundation leaders from all over the nation have been tackling this question. They have discovered that when you combine the features of economic development, community development and philanthropy you unlock the secret to success.

Often rural community leaders struggle alone trying to build the systems that will make their community successful. Eight years ago, four community foundations all working with rural economic development were brought together as part of an Aspen Institute learning community. They discovered a common thread of activities that influenced the success of rural communities. They decided to work together to help rural communities all over the nation.

West Central Initiative, The Nebraska Community Foundation, The Humboldt Area Foundation in California, The East Tennessee Foundation, The Black Belt Community Foundation, The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, The Center for Rural Strategies, and North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center have formed the Rural Development Philanthropy Collaboration steering committee. They have been able to compare years of experience working with successful rural communities to collect the most effective actions that lead to success.

The Rural Development Philanthropy is no longer a secret. Now the core documents are available for anyone interested in the success of their rural community at  Learn how your rural community or region can benefit from combining economic development, community development and philanthropy.

Grant support from the Ford Foundation, California Endowment, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the community foundations on the steering committee has helped underwrite the cost of meetings and materials to date.

Visit West Central Blogger for more regional community foundation news.

Admitting Mistakes, Finding Solutions: The Gates Foundation’s Grantee Perceptions Report

July 19, 2010

Bill and Melinda Gates and their philanthropic partner Warren Buffet have been in the news a lot lately following the announcement of their ambitious $600 billion giving pledge, an open challenge to the nation’s billionaires to commit to giving away half of their fortunes to charity.

However, there’s been other recent news regarding The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that you may not have heard. As I read today in this post on the Philanthrocapitalism blog, a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy Grantee Perceptions Report found that the foundation is facing communications challenges with its grantees.

The report is based on a survey of 1,544 of Gates’ grantees. On the positive side of the ledger, it found that the foundation is perceived by grantees as having a profound positive impact on work in the grantees’ fields, particularly in the areas of knowledge building, public policy and creating effective practices.

However, the assessment of the Gates Foundation’s communications was not so rosey. Grantee partners reported that the organization’s goals and strategies are unclear, and that similarly they felt that the foundation had a poor understanding of their goals and strategies. Respondents also noted confusion about the foundation’s decision-making and grantmaking processes and expressed frustration over program officer turnover.

As you may know, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a member of MCF. So you may be wondering why we would report on one of our members performing poorly at, well, anything. The truth is, although the report found that the Gates Foundation has a need for improvement, its transparency about those challenges is admirable and should serve as a model for those grantmakers that value transparency and accountability in their work, both key tenets of MCF’s own Principles for Minnesota Grantmakers.

The Gates Foundation has been very open about its involvement in the assessment process and the results, posting the findings here on its website, along with the audio from a number of grantee community calls. The foundation also has been clear that it will be addressing these shortcomings by reevaluating its communications and creating new strategies for enhancing cohesion and clarity between program managers and executives at the foundation and its grantee partners.

That’s why I salute the Gates Foundation for being upfront about the challenges that it faces. It’s through this process that the organization will be able to enhance its relationships with grantees, and ultimately the impact of its grant giving.

As physicist Tom Hirshfield once wrote, “If you hit every time, the target is either too big or too near.” Philanthropy is a bold endeavor with high stakes. By learning from our collective mistakes through accountable and transparent practices, we can capitalize not only on success, but failure too, and ameliorate the world-changing work that we all share, while at the same time affirming the public trust.

– Cary Lenore Walski, MCF web communications associate

New Strategic Philanthropy Resource: Deep Social Impact Blog

July 12, 2010

Boston-based The Philanthropic Initiative Inc. entered the blogosphere mid-June with Deep Social Impact. Striving to broadcast more widely its knowledge gained from 20 years of advising donors and researching, designing and implementing a variety of philanthropic initiatives, TPI says its goal for Deep Social Impact is to wrap “shared learning around practical advice – with a healthy diet of inspiration.”

This “strategic philanthropy blog” will cover a range of topics – philanthropic leadership, women in philanthropy and global philanthropy. Written by TPI senior staff, topics to date have included:

TPI is looking to intertwine their lessons learned and experiments-in-progress with yours, so read and comment away, says Ellen Remmer, TPI’s CEO and president. “We are looking to spark dialogue among donors and philanthropy professionals and hope the Deep Social Impact blog grows to become a valued resource for donors who are committed to increasing the impact of their giving.”

TPI is a nonprofit advisory team that designs, carries out and evaluates philanthropic programs for individual donors, families, foundations and corporations targeting a wide range of social issues, including education, health, issues affecting youth and families, hunger and nutrition, housing and homelessness, community and economic development, civic engagement, environmental issues and the arts.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate