Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 28, 2013

Sharing with others: How model documentation leads to adaptation

Sandy Edwards

The North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) has developed a model for a community-wide Jewish teen engagement and education initiative that has produced evidence of success. Colleagues from various parts of the country have reached out to Adam Smith, NSTI’s executive director, to find out how they too can implement successful components of the NSTI model. 
Smith is happy to engage in conversation and is excited to share. However, he continues to have obligations to grow and sustain NSTI, so he needs to find a more efficient way of communicating information that would contribute to implementation of NSTI’s model in other communities.

To support the dissemination of the NSTI model, documentation of the model has begun.

What is model documentation? It is a description of the model and lessons learned from implementation. While this description is intended to offer a guide to adaptation of the model, it is not a prescription. The best documentation includes descriptions of the most critical components, important contextual and readiness factors, core methods and approaches, financial information, important personal and organizational relationships that supported implementation, challenges encountered and stories from the field.

Why do it?  Documentation offers the opportunity to share what was learned. It provides tools and practices that supported the successful implementation of the model during the development and demonstration phase so that others can adapt or implement the model or components of it.

In addition to NSTI, two other initiatives supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation are engaged in a process of documentation: 1) Jewish Learning Works’ BASIS, the Israel Education Day School Project in 11 San Francisco Bay Area schools, and 2) the Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative (LAHSAI), operated by the Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), which is a demonstration project to both stabilize and incrementally increase the enrollment of students from middle-income families at five Jewish high schools. It also was designed to build capacity in the schools to create an endowment to sustain affordability for these families.

How does documentation lead to adaptation? Both BASIS and LAHSAI have national partners that can leverage the documentation of the models to support dissemination among their respective constituencies. BASIS works closely with the iCenter, a national Israel education resource center focused on pre-collegiate Israel education, which will create a cohort of schools to implement BASIS. LAHSAI has partnered with the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education’s (PEJE) Generations program to expand the capacity to create an endowment fund from the five high schools to an additional seven day schools in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the most effective means to share model documentation information is through a stand-alone website, which houses the entire model documentation in an organized, step-by-step manner. Ideally, an individual accesses the site to determine if the model fits his or her needs and uses the site’s content to begin an implementation process.

Again, model documentation, in and of itself, is not sufficient to support successful adaptation of a model. It needs to be coupled with consultation and works best with the support of a national entity like iCenter or PEJE, which brings additional resources to bear (there is no counterpart national entity in the Jewish teen education space in support of NSTI, which presents challenges). Documentation does provide the foundation to enable more targeted conversation or site visits to support implementation.

And model documentation helps Adam Smith continue his work with the growth and development of NSTI. Simultaneously, he is equipped with the tools and information to support dissemination of a model that can help other communities better engage their Jewish teens.

Sandy Edwards, Ph.D., is associate director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States.

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August 26, 2013

Permission to dream: Taking the first steps toward social change

                                                                                                        © Shutterstock 

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Alissa Hauser

Foundations often identify themselves as “grant-makers.” But by being grant-makers, we are also “grant-rejectors.” We love to focus on who and what we fund, often forgetting about all the groups and people we don’t fund.

Since Jan. 1, 2013, The Pollination Project has given daily $1,000 micro grants to individual changemakers (more than 250 in total).  Our funding helps these people launch innovative social change projects at their most nascent stages. We are proud to support a global network of brave, visionary people who are changing the world one small project at a time.

Since Jan. 1, 2013, we’ve also rejected about 750 people and their worthy projects. For every project we fund, we decline to fund three others. That’s a lot of hopes, dreams and visions that we didn’t support.

When we looked to other foundations for perspective on grant rejection, most approached it as an administrative challenge: Reviewing and rejecting applicants takes time, even when the process is well automated. Some foundations address this problem by only inviting applications from groups that are essentially “pre-approved” and have a high chance of getting funded. Others just send a short form letter from their database when rejecting an applicant. Compassion, care, encouragement and love are often missing from the process of grant-rejecting.

Yet, despite the administrative challenges of daily grant making, we know there’s more to being a funder than grant making and grant rejecting. Ultimately, we aspire to be cheerleaders for social change entrepreneurship. Anyone anywhere in the world who has a vision and plan for expanding compassion is invited and welcomed to apply to us for funding. We encourage our applicants to dream: If you had $1,000 to create more compassion in the world and make it a better place, what would you do?

Martin Luther King Jr. notably said, “You don't have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.” At its best, a wide-open application process serves as first step in someone’s commitment to social change.  So far, we’ve seen that. Regardless of whether they received funding, applicants thank us for giving the opportunity to write down their idea. Often they still launch the project they proposed, with or without our support. Taking that first step – to dream – is what matters most.

We see our large and diverse applicant pool not as a problem to solve, but as validation of the goodness and beauty in the world. If we reject an applicant once, they can reapply as often as they want. We try to help an applicant strengthen their plan and their approach, sometimes pointing them to other potential resources for their work. We encourage them to move forward with their compassion-driven social change ideas, no matter what.

In the grand scheme of things, I hope that our impact as a funder is not defined by who we fund, but by all the great social change ideas that are born when people are given the permission to dream.

And to the thousands of people who have or who will receive a rejection note from us this year: Thank you for caring. Thank you for being bold and brave enough to dream of a better world. Thank you for writing down your vision. You are well on your way. KEEP GOING!
Alissa Hauser is executive director of The Pollination Project, a new foundation that gives away $1,000 a day, every day of the year, to individual social change visionaries. See the related PJ story here.

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August 21, 2013

Evaluating GoodSearch: Effective e-philanthropy or fundraising fad?

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Ann Roper Bowen

Nonprofit organizations are increasingly engaging in online philanthropy to promote their mission, communicate with constituents and fundraise. Volunteer-matching websites, strategic email marketing, social media tools and click-and-give sites abound.

In 2005, the GoodSearch search engine emerged as a way for nonprofits and schools to raise money for their mission simply by surfing the web. Partners with Yahoo!, GoodSearch donates $0.01 to a user’s designated charity for each Internet search conducted through the site.

To date, more than 110,000 nonprofits and schools have joined GoodSearch, collectively earning more than $9.9 million. But does it really work? According to a 2010 study of 400 registered GoodSearch organizations, it depends. 

The study randomly selected 400 of the nearly 87,000 registered nonprofits with the GoodSearch site (as of 2009) to investigate trends in GoodSearch revenue. Through data analysis and a 14-question survey, the study sought to answer a number of questions: What is the average revenue generated? Do certain organizations yield more money than others? Are there any strategies to achieving success? The goal was to help nonprofits wisely allocate their limited resources when developing their online fundraising strategy.

Of the 400 organizations studied, nearly 89 percent earned less than $100 through GoodSearch, with nearly a quarter earning nothing. The most revenue earned was $1,700, which represented less than 1 percent of the organization’s total revenue. GoodSearch touts the great success of organizations like the ASPCA; however, the $10,000 the ASPCA raised through the site in 2008 was a drop in the bucket compared to its $127 million in revenue the same year.

While the revenue potential is modest for those who join GoodSearch, many organizations choose to use this free, relatively simple form of online fundraising to increase their web presence, join the e-philanthropy movement or appeal to the desires of board members. Whatever the reason, nonprofit professionals should bear in mind several factors to make the most of GoodSearch for their organization:

First, consider your mission. Organizations with a religious mission, such as faith-based services, and those with sports and recreation programs, such as school athletic teams, earn more revenue than other nonprofits studied. The reason why is unclear, but you’re more likely to see success if you fit one of these categories.

Second, stick with it. Revenue tends to increase with each additional year of use from an average of $3.53 in the first year to about $82 in the fourth year. The longer and more frequently you use it, the more your money will grow.

Third, promote GoodSearch to your constituents. Web-based marketing is the most effective strategy for increasing GoodSearch revenue. GoodSearch offers its logo and other free, user-friendly tools to assist participating nonprofits with their marketing efforts. Those organizations that took advantage of these tools raised more money than those that did not.

Web-based announcements about GoodSearch also contributed to increased revenue. Post the GoodSearch logo on your website along with a blurb that links directly to the site. This makes it easy for your supporters to get started and will result in more money earned.

Finally, manage your expectations and those of your staff and board. GoodSearch will not be your organization’s answer to its fundraising woes. But it is a fun, free and rather easy way to generate some money for your agency’s cause. And in the nonprofit world, small gifts can make a difference.

Note: Since the original study was conducted in 2010, GoodSearch has added new features such as GoodShop and GoodDining and launched a new website and logo which differ from images presented in the study’s appendix.

Ann Roper Bowen holds a Master in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research of GoodSearch was conducted during her graduate study at UNC. After three years in membership development and communications with the YMCA of South Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Va., Ann is staying at home with her young twins.

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