Report Watch: The Future of Philanthropy (and Your Next Board Meeting)

Two new must-read reports seek to look into philanthropy’s future.  Lucy Bernhoz with Ed Skloot and Barry Varela focus on the role of technology in their piece,  Disrupting Philanthropy.  Katherine Fulton, Gabriel Kasper, and Barbara Kibbe of the Monitor Institute take on similar issues in their What’s Next for Philanthropy: Acting Bigger and Adapting Bigger in a Networked World .

From Disrupting Philanthropy:

“On the cusp of the first modern foundation’s centennial, we may be looking at the dawn of a new form of organizing, giving, and governing that is better informed, more aware of complex systems, more collaborative, more personal, more nimble, and ultimately, perhaps, more effective.”

From What’s Next for Philanthropy:

“An intimidating range of forces – globalization, shifting sectoral roles, economic crisis, and ubiquitous connective technologies, to name just a few – are changing both what philanthropy is called upon to do and how donors and foundations will accomplish their work in the future.”

The authors of What’s Next comment on Disrupting, writing:

“Berhnolz and her co-authors argue that the increased availability of data provides the platform for more-informed decision-making and, in turn, creates demand for more data and increases expectations for transparency and openness.  Over time, access to the data allows people to make new connections; to create new information; and, to investigate, understand, and act on the information in new ways.

This argument builds on the case that the Center for Effective Philanthropy has made over the past 10 years as it has endeavored to create new rigor and new data upon which to base decisions in philanthropy.  Now external forces outside philanthropy are turbo-charging existing data streams, creating a powerful force that will mitigate the insularity and inward focus that characterizes so much of philanthropy today.”

My take: two thought-provoking reports underscoring how much is changing in the world, and in philanthropy, and how aware we need to be of those changes and what they mean for our efforts to maximize the positive impact of philanthropy.  I have quibbles, of course, but I recommend both reports.

Also looking to a different future is Mario Morino in his latest “Chairman’s Corner: ‘Social Outcomes’ Lifting Sights, Changing Norms.”  Mario’s essay, also a must-read (and a much shorter read), calls on funders to “get the right people in the room to define an initiative focused on bringing the innovative outcomes-focused management practices on the periphery of our sector into the core.”  Mario makes an impassioned plea for building on the too-few historical exemplars to make a “missionary sell.”

“Over the past century, the nonprofit world has produced some very good examples of managing to outcomes—from the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission´s role in the eradication of hookworm in the American South to ClimateWorks´s systematic efforts today to catalyze measurable reductions in carbon emissions. Unfortunately, such examples are outliers. I believe that outcomes-based management and performance-management systems for nonprofits are still at the ‘missionary’ stage.”

Not sure what to do at your next foundation board meeting?  Ask your board to read each of these three pieces and spend two hours asking, what does this mean for us, as we seek to maximize our impact? What should we be reconsidering about our strategies to achieve our goals in light of the points these authors make?

It will be time very well spent.

Phil Buchanan is President of CEP.

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