Inside Philanthropy

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

September 30, 2013

Increasing your funding: A more effective organizational approach

Martin Lattman

Special to Philanthropy Journal

In today’s increasingly competitive funding environment, most nonprofits are looking for new ways to distinguish themselves and strengthen their overall appeal. Is there a new approach or “breakthrough insight” that can enable not-for-profits to enhance their funding opportunities and improve their operating effectiveness at the same time? 

The answer can be found in an unexpected place: the Government Performance and Reporting Act, or GPRA.

Mandated in 1993, GPRA is designed to significantly improve the organizational effectiveness of federal agencies through a structured, strategic-planning process and regular monitoring and evaluation of performance results. Over the years, GPRA has had a significant, positive impact on managerial effectiveness within the public sector.

The explanation is simple: GPRA defines a set of planning guidelines and “best practices” that have withstood the test of time. The GPRA model is distinctive and compelling in its emphasis on measurable results. This performance-based approach to strategic planning is not widely established within either the private sector or the not-for-profit community.

So how does GPRA relate to the nonprofit sector, and how could it expand funding opportunities while also improving operational efficiency? The short answer is this: Let’s examine first the funding aspects. To understand the impact that GPRA adherence could have, we must look at the current state of fundraising within the not-for-profit sector. The complexity of this process has grown across all three primary funding channels. Donors and private foundations are increasingly rigorous about how their money is allocated, and growth in the number of not-for-profits has made competition for these funds intense. Federal government grants, the third main source of funding, have been more difficult to obtain due to increasing budget pressures and a greater focus on accountability.

Any not-for-profit that embraces GPRA’s planning and performance reporting principles will likely have a better chance of securing money from all of the three main sources. Since individual donors and private foundations have become much more selective and results-oriented in determining where their money goes, they expect to be regularly informed on progress. Grant applicants are required to submit detailed justifications for their requests, and if they receive a grant, they must provide consistent, timely reports on how the money is being utilized.

Now let’s look at internal operating effectiveness. Most not-for-profits place their primary emphasis on generating a positive impact on their target constituencies. This is their mission, and it is usually an all-consuming one. They measure effectiveness by the number of people they help or how much they advance their cause through advocacy. Detailed planning and operational efficiency are not usually at the top of their priority list. Furthermore, these skills may not be as strongly developed as within the private sector, where they are critical for competitive success.

The “breakthrough insight” mentioned earlier is based on a vision of enhanced collaboration between funding sources and the not-for-profit sector. Sharing the guidelines of GPRA can only improve the ability of not-for-profits and their funders to work more closely and effectively together. At a minimum, their planning cycles, performance metrics and information systems would be more aligned, and both parties would likely find their own managerial responsibilities simplified as a result.

Another benefit: Since GPRA is intended to increase accountability, adoption of its main tenets by the not-for-profit sector would have a similar impact. When a funding recipient is more adept at being accountable for the funds it receives, both parties benefit. The money is spent more appropriately, and the impact generated by the fund provider is also enhanced.

So is it realistic and reasonable for not-for-profits to utilize all of the specifics included in the GPRA legislation? No. Is it realistic and reasonable for not-for-profits to adopt the same general commitment to regular strategic planning and disciplined monitoring of progress on which GPRA is based? Yes.

It is virtually certain that the effort this entails will be more than offset by the increases gained in efficiency. Once a not-for-profit learns the basic process for strategic planning and how to consistently track and evaluate results, these will become embedded into its managerial fabric.

What will it take to promote the usage of GPRA’s planning and performance management principles within the not-for-profit world? It must start with creating awareness of the benefits, applied to both parties. A concerted education program should be launched that will simplify the complexity of GPRA into a more easily digested form. As part of this educational initiative, tools and techniques for implementing a straightforward strategic planning process should be provided, as well as efficient approaches to assessing progress and regular reporting.

Martin Lattman is the author “Manage Your Mission: A Practical Guide for Leaders of Non-Profits.” He is the founder and managing partner of QRG Inc., a strategic management consultancy firm.

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September 25, 2013

Can philanthropy ‘fix’ public education?

                                                                                                          © Shutterstock

Special to Philanthropy Journal
Damon Circosta
There is a battle going on in North Carolina, where I work, and across the country for the future of public education. In the fog of war, sometimes it’s tough to tell who is on what side. Everyone wants to ascend to the mantle of “champion for kids” or “reformers of education,” and everyone fervently believes their solution is the winner.
As the debate about public education has become increasingly polarized in the last decade, the sharp partisanship draws frustration from frustrated parents whose objective is to send their kid to a great school.
Meanwhile, another interesting trend continues.  Private philanthropic organizations continue to find ways to support strengthening our schools. The headlines speak for themselves: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Commits $350 Million Nationally To Help Students Succeed in the Classroom, Annenberg to Give Education $500 Million Over Five Years, and Mark Zuckerberg Giving $100 Million to Newark Schools.
For context, America spends more than $500 billion a year on public elementary and secondary education. States typically provide a little less than half, local governments about 44 percent, and the federal government contributes about 13 percent of all direct expenditures.

Philanthropists, by contrast, only spend about $4 billion annually. You need a good education to do the math, which equals just 0.008 percent of total expenditures. Though it’s a drop in the bucket, this private money is having a growing influence on public education. 

The flexibility that philanthropic dollars provide can help spur innovation in our public schools. But foundation money injected into the public school system is merely an opportunity. There are no guarantees that a grant will “fix” public schools.
In my limited experience working to fund education initiatives, here are some issues that we strive to address:
Know Your Limits
As states continue to feel the pinch of the recession, and public school funding does not keep pace with enrollment, foundations are increasingly being asked to send resources to our public schools. But as philanthropists, we must understand our place in a large, complex system. In 1972, the Ford Foundation published a critique of its own education reform efforts during the 1960s. The report observed that the foundation’s projects “underestimated the complexity of improving schools” and did not fully account for the difficulty of working with unions, community leaders and parents, or the effect of broader social conditions. Let this be a lesson for us going forward. 
Fund Innovation
Foundation funds are not large enough to the fill budget gaps left when public revenue decreases. We shouldn’t even attempt to pick up the slack when public dollars fall short. Instead, our money is best spent on programs that are experimental in nature, not plugging holes. It’s been said that foundation dollars can be the “passing gear” of society. As such we should always look to rev the engines of something new, even if it means a greater risk that we will fail.
Invest in Talent
The lion’s share of grant funding goes to pay for salaries.  We need to invest that money in talented people who are doing innovative work. There is no shortage of remarkable talent in public schools, from the classroom teacher to local superintendents. Identify those who are making a mark, support their work and pay them well enough to keep them in public schools. 
Stay Local
A scathing critique of the Annenberg Challenge in the 1990s concluded that the reason this funding was largely a failure is because the program was based on the notion that failing public schools simply needed expertise from talented and motivated outsiders. Public education is a huge enterprise in this country. Philanthropic dollars work best when they are used to identify a specific, local problem. This strategy builds greater trust between partners and foundations don’t try to bite off more than they can chew.
Be a Cheerleader
While our public education system undeniably needs reform, we must remain positive and humble. Harping on the words “failure” and “broken” is unhelpful to our efforts. Nor is it helpful to pretend that philanthropy can save the day. It might feel good to couch a grant as the “winning ticket” for a school, but it does a disservice to all of the wonderful, important things that others do for public schools. We must be the outspoken and optimistic cheerleaders on the side, sticking up for public education and believing in its success.
Bring Your Friends With You
Too often, I see grant makers get really excited about a project and then restrict the ability of other interested funders to join the effort. The best school improvement projects I’ve seen are ones that have multiple funding streams and buy-in from a broad swath of the community. If you find a project worth investing in, let your grant-making friends know they can share in the work and outcome.
There are very few institutions in our increasingly segmented society that have the opportunity to bring people together like public schools. Our government is polarized, our churches are segregated and we have even begun again to live apart from one another. If we invest in the right strategies, we strengthen an institution that democratizes and unites us. Education provides for our country’s future. It’s vitally important that we get this right.
Damon Circosta is the executive director of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which provides operational funding for Philanthropy Journal.

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How parents teach children about charitable giving matters, new study finds

News Release

Parents who talk to their children about charitable giving significantly increase the likelihood that those children will give to charity, according to Women Give 2013, a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

That finding holds true regardless of the child’s sex, age, race and family income. Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than children whose parents do not discuss giving with them.

“This research provides a clear, effective path for parents who want to encourage their children to be generous and caring,” said Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. “The way parents teach their children about giving matters. Talking to children about charity is effective across all types of U.S. households, pointing the way to raising future philanthropists.”

The IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study is among the first to analyze and compare what parents can do to encourage their children’s charitable behavior. It examines two approaches through which parents teach children about charitable giving: (1) talking to children about charitable giving and (2) role-modeling charitable giving. For this study, role-modeling is defined as parents giving to charity. The study also investigates whether girls and boys participate differently in giving and volunteering, expanding the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s exploration of how gender affects charitable giving. It follows the same 903 children over two time periods, 2002-2003 and 2007-2008.

Role-modeling alone does not appear to be as effective as talking to children about giving, the researchers found. Parents who want to raise charitable children should talk intentionally with them about their own philanthropic values and practices throughout childhood and adolescence in addition to role-modeling, they say.

Children are philanthropic, according to the study. Nearly nine out of 10 children, ages eight to 19, give to charity. The study also found that girls and boys are equally likely to make monetary gifts to charity; however, girls are more likely than boys to volunteer, a pattern that continues in adulthood.

“Understanding how children learn about charity has important implications for the future of giving in America. Studies like this benefit parents, teachers, nonprofit leaders and policy makers as they seek to engage the next generation in philanthropy,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., Director of Research at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, located on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus.

The United Nations Foundation partnered with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute on Women Give 2013.  Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation said, “This study confirms what we at the UN Foundation view as one of the most powerful trends of our time: Young people are a force for positive change in the world. From grade school students raising money to fight malaria to teenage girls advocating against child marriage, today’s young people aren’t waiting to make a difference – they’re doing it now. As more parents talk to their children about the importance of giving, we will see new philanthropists emerge to help create a brighter future for all of us.”

Women Give 2013 is the fourth in a series of research reports conducted at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute that focuses on gender differences in giving. Prior research has demonstrated that men and women exhibit different motivations for giving and different patterns of giving. Little is known about how girls and boys learn to become charitable adults. This new study uses data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement, the nation’s largest nationally representative sample that tracks giving patterns among the same households over time. It builds on academic research conducted by Wilhelm, Estell, and Perdue (2012) which explores issues around raising charitable children.

The complete Women Give 2013 report is available at: The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. WPI increases understanding of women’s philanthropy through rigorous research and education, interpreting and sharing these insights broadly to improve philanthropy. 

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September 23, 2013

Post-graduation service programs build life values, employable skills

Doug Cutchins

Special to Philanthropy Journal

It’s that time of year. College seniors have returned to campuses all across the country, which means that they are already starting to get sick of being asked the question that will plague them all year: “So, what are you doing after graduation?”

Most will consider answering this question with the standard options: work or grad school. A small minority will examine a different possibility: post-graduate service programs, such as the Peace Corps, Teach For America, and AmeriCorps.

But not enough consider that path, and more should do so.

Here are six reasons why college seniors should seriously consider post-graduation service programs:

1) This may be your best chance in life to leap out of your comfort zone.

You’re probably freer to choose your path in life when you graduate from college than at any other moment. Sure, you probably have a few boxes of books and clothes, but those can go in storage. Your student loans can usually be deferred.

You’ll be stunned by how quickly this freedom goes away. And it’s not the really big things that take away this freedom – it’s not the mortgage or spouse or baby. You know what it is? It’s your first sofa. That sounds like a dumb theory, but it’s true. One of the first big purchases most recent college grads make is a sofa. And once you have a nice sofa, you don’t want to sell it or put it in storage. And just like that, your freedom is gone.

2) Post-grad service programs make it easy to enjoy your senior year of college.
In many ways, what we do to you as a college senior is really cruel. You’re captain of the team or president of the club and are in senior seminars. You’re also trying to cement life-long friendships and find ways to enjoy your last nine months as a college student. On top of all of that, we ask you to simultaneously explore your interests and abilities, write resumes and cover letters, network, interview and negotiate a salary. No wonder seniors get crabby when we ask if you know what you’re doing yet.

Post-grad service programs have set, established application processes and timelines. They need volunteers, and some do not have very competitive admissions processes.

When you decide that you are going to commit to post-grad service, you free yourself up to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to just be a college senior and put off the worry about the rest of your future to a later time.

3) Post-grad service programs enhance your future opportunities.
Here’s the easiest way I can put this: Who gets into the better grad school, you at college graduation or you after graduation plus two years of Peace Corps service?

Grad schools and jobs are still going to be there a year or two later. And you’ll be more qualified for those opportunities, have different perspectives and be more certain that you are choosing the right path after you have completed a post-grad service program.

4) It’s not time off. It’s time on.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seniors telling me that they are going to take on a post-grad service program because they want “time off.” As if, say, going to Ghana to teach science to high school students for two years is not work or that it won’t impact who you are, what you care about and how you see the world and your role in it.
When you take on one of these opportunities, you have experiences that become an integral part of who you are, expand your skillset and help shape your future life course.

5) Post-grad service programs give you a chance to act on your values.
What do you hope to accomplish in your life? What will your legacy be?

Look at any advice for college graduates, and you’ll find a common theme: The biggest, most important, most interesting challenges you will face are not those of narrow self-interest but those that change society and the individuals who make it up.

As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben reminded him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As a college graduate, you are in the elite 7 percent of the world’s population that has a bachelor’s degree. That’s great power. Use it responsibly.

6) The world needs you.
The world needs your energy, your passion, your enthusiasm and your talents. Don’t make your first post-graduation move just based on what you want and what is best for you; consider what the world needs from you, too.

In the end, the question I keep coming back to is this: Who would regret doing this? Who would come back from the Peace Corps and say, “No, I wish I had not lived in a jungle in Suriname for two years and learned a new language and stretched myself and made life-long friends and helped my village reach their goals. I wish I had just gone straight to grad school.”

It’s a big world, full of interesting things and people. Go explore it, and do good.

Doug Cutchins is the assistant dean and director of post-graduate transitions in the Center for Careers, Life and Service at Grinnell College and the co-author of “Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others.”

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