The DoGoodBetter Blog
DoGoodBetter Blog


New Year, New Ways of Seeing

Leslie Crutchfield, March 21, 2012

A year ago today, we piloted the DoGoodBetterBlog and soon after launched Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors of Who Change the World. The concepts in Do More Than Give were inspired by Mark Kramer’s SSIR article “Catalytic Philanthropy” and the “six practices” revealed in my previous book, Forces for Good.

In the five years since Forces for Good was published in 2007, the world has changed significantly. The U.S. and global economies have essentially ground to a halt. Government cutbacks, relatively flat philanthropic support, and constrained corporate budgets have challenged nonprofits and donors as never before. Meanwhile, demand for critical services in the U.S. has shot up—applications for food, affordable housing, and poverty assistance have ballooned since the onset of the recession.

So my Forces for Good coauthor and I were curious: How have these global trends affected the 12 high-impact nonprofits we originally studied to deduce the “six practices of high-impact nonprofits?” How have the organizations fared in this era when we all must do more with less?

The answers are revealed in a Revised and Updated Edition of Forces for Good, due to publish on May 7, 2012. In this new edition, we re-visit the 12 nonprofits originally featured in the book—from Teach for America to Habitat for Humanity to Environmental Defense Fund—and explore how they’ve each not only survived but thrived during these tumultuous times. We also introduce new research on how local and smaller nonprofits, operating on modest budgets, can still successfully employ the “six practices” to deepen impact in their local communities. So please check back here later this spring for more on this new content.

On a personal note, I am pleased to announce another “new edition” of a different sort: I am expecting to introduce a third addition to our family later this month, and will be offline on maternity leave for a while. In the meantime, I hope you will continue strive to “do good better,” and recommend the FSG Social Impact blog as an excellent source of ongoing inspiration and ideas.

For starters, check out my Do More Than Give coauthor Mark Kramer’s post from earlier this week, “The Power of the Name,” in which he explores how FSG aims to help foster a global Collective Impact movement. It speaks to the heart of how nonprofits must strive to build fields and spawn broader adoption of ideas rather than focus only on shoring up their own empires in order to achieve widescale systems change.



DoGoodBetter Blog


New Year, New Ways of Seeing

Leslie Crutchfield, January 11, 2011

I love it when a writer inspires you to view familiar things in a new light.  Lucy Bernholz’s review of the book Philanthropy in America: A History by Olivier Zunz does this well.

"Many of us have a mental picture of nonprofits and philanthropy as one of three circles in a Venn Diagram, the other two being government and commercial enterprise. The circles overlap in the center, but each sector has its own functions,” writes Bernholz.  But “do-good” efforts don’t always neatly fit into those circles–she cites nonprofit producers of wildly successful software products, for-profit social enterprises, and other “boundary crossing” examples.  She notes that Zunz’s book similarly blurs the boundaries of that familiar Venn Diagram that many carry in their heads by a braiding together various strands of philanthropy history, from the original Easter Sales campaign and the 1911 creation of the Carnegie Corporation of New York (the first major general purpose foundation) to other examples that don’t neatly fit the boundaries of “traditional” foundation giving.  Simply by painting a picture of mental models like these, writers help readers suddenly see through the facade.

In Do More than Give, we encourage donors to dismantle another mental model – to move from primarily conceiving their role as “check writer” and instead becoming “problem solvers.”  Too often, philanthropists define themselves primarily as “grantmaker”, and companies, nonprofits, government leaders and individual donors see giving money as their primary means of achieving change.  By encouraging readers to “do more than give,” what we’re talking about is going beyond grantmaking and directly engage in the change-making process.  As my coauthor Mark Kramer often says, “Philanthropy can be a spectator sport. But to catalyze change, you have to put some skin in the game.”  The challenge is to inspire donors to reconceive of their role – to break out of their prescribed “circle” in that traditional Venn Diagram.

I was recently inspired to see catalytic philanthropy through a new lens by another writer, Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest, coauthor of Money Well Spent.  Paul was a featured presenter on FSG’s recent Webinar, “Catalyzing Change—Stories from Bold Donors Who Drive Real Results”.  During the Webinar, Brest shared his view of what makes catalytic philanthropy unique from traditional grantmaking: "Catalytic philanthropy requires a lot risk. [Catalytic donors] will try a number of things and some just won’t work.  What justifies taking the risk is the potential for impact. And it’s all about impact."

In Do More Than Give, we also write about catalytic donors like Hewlett that have taken such risks and achieved real results.  But Brest admits that the two biggest advocacy efforts of Hewlett grantees over last couple of years have been “abysmal failures.”  One was attempt by a group of organizations to get congressional cap on CO2 emissions, and the other one was to achieve an agreement in Copenhagen across many countries.  “But what justifies taking those risks,” explained Brest, “is to the potential for impact.  You have to have risk appetite.”

Brest is right – without risk, there is limited potential reward.  Risk is what drives venture capital industry, and it’s what inspires catalytic donors to do counter-intuitive things, like staff up their foundations and put skin in the game of catalyzing change, rather than only shuffle money out the door.

So here’s to new ways of seeing familiar things—and to taking more risks in the New Year.



DoGoodBetter Blog


Finding an Answer Where You Least Expect It

Leslie Crutchfield, November 11, 2011

Paul Grogan is a catalytic philanthropist who’s not afraid to do the right thing, even when it may look like the wrong thing for a community-based foundation to do at the time. Paul told a fascinating story at our recent forum at The Boston Foundation, which clarified for me a key aspect of how donors catalyze change: The best way to solve a social problem isn’t always to fund a nonprofit organization. Sometimes, the answer lies in funding a for-profit to tackle it—as difficult this may be for the more than 1.5 million nonprofits operating in the U.S. alone. My ears certainly pricked up when I heard it.

Paul shared an example of how The Boston Foundation took on the challenge of helping working-poor families in Massachusetts bootstrap themselves into higher-paying, sustainable careers and escape the cycle of poverty that entraps many working at low-skilled, minimum wage jobs. The traditional answer to this problem has been to donate to nonprofit job-training programs, and give low-skill workers a different set of tools to bring to the job marketplace. But so far that has largely only solved one-half the problem because the higher paying, higher skilled jobs still don’t exist for them to move up into. Local businesses would need to change how they trained and promoted low-skill workers and create those career paths. So Grogan re-framed the problem from one of workforce development to one of economic development, and set about finding ways to motivate major industry leaders in the city of Boston—namely, for-profit hospitals—to create these opportunities.

The Boston Foundation and its funding partners ended up creating and funding new types of workplace partnerships, which focused on specific industry sectors. One example is the Building Services Career Path, which focused on creating better opportunities for low-skilled building custodians that met the needs of the employers as well as advanced opportunities for the employees (to read more, see Practice #5: Lead Adaptively in Do More Than Give).

The irony of this approach is that The Boston Foundation and its partners ended up funding for-profit hospitals to create and run these programs. Paul asked at the Forum, “wouldn’t it be better if The Boston Foundation had given those funds to a local nonprofit who really needed the money?” But that wouldn’t have solved the problem—or more precisely, it would have only solved half the problem.

We write in Do More Than Give that catalytic philanthropy is hard. But this exchange at The Boston Foundation highlighted for me that catalytic philanthropy is also amazingly counter-intuitive. As someone who’s spent more than 20 years in the nonprofit sector, I definitely could see how, on the surface, it just seems wrong that a community foundation would be funding a bunch of well-endowed for-profit enterprises in town when there are so many well-intentioned—and deserving—nonprofits who could use the funding, and who really need it to survive. But now I see things differently. Because the goal of catalytic philanthropy isn’t to make grants to nonprofits. The goal is to solve problems. And sometimes the solution is not where you first expect it.



DoGoodBetter Blog


Do More Than Give In The Boston Community

Paul S. Grogan, October 19, 2011

Recently, the Boston Foundation hosted a book event featuring "Do More Than Give" by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania, and Mark Kramer of FSG. The book reframes the way we think about philanthropy, from simple giving with good intentions to tangible impact on social change, and I am proud that the Boston Foundation was one of the success stories profiled in this book.

At the Boston Foundation, we have made it our mission to collaborate with donors, funders, and stakeholders in the public and private sectors to achieve high-impact philanthropy. A key part of our work is our service as a civic data hub, developing research which identifies the real issues facing Boston and our Commonwealth. This data and research fuels our grantmaking and key strategic objectives. FSG recognized that our work is not simply giving money, but rather is working to solve social problems.

Following the book presentation, I joined Blake Jordan, Executive Director of the Highland Street Foundation,  for a panel discussion on catalytic philanthropy, emphasizing direct  impact and tangible results on issues social change. The Highland Street  Foundation began with the very simple goal of providing an opportunity  for everyone in Massachusetts, which they turned in to Free Fun Fridays –  a program which invites Massachusetts residents and tourists to visit  cultural attractions every Friday in the summer with free admission. The  program has been hugely successful, with an impact beyond simply  opening the doors to these institutions and into economic development,  educational support, and community engagement.

The event and discussion shared a fresh perspective on philanthropy.  If you were not able to join us, I encourage you to watch the video from  last night: Do More Than Give on UStream, October 13, 2011. Many of  these events are streamed live on the web via UStream, and the Boston Foundation often livetweets from these events (at @bostonfdn). I hope you can join the dialogue in person or online as we innovate philanthropy.

Paul's post originally appeared here.

About Paul Grogan:  Paul Grogan is the President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. With assets of  almost $800 million, the Boston Foundation awarded nearly $79 million in  grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the Greater Boston  community in 2008.  Paul is a board member of FSG.



DoGoodBetter Blog


Like Politics, Catalytic Philanthropy is Local

Leslie Crutchfield, September 5, 2011

We talk a big game in Do More Than Give, urging donors to solve pressing problems and drive for wide-scale, systemic change. But when it comes to demonstrating results on the ground, most of the best examples in our book are local. Do the principals of catalytic philanthropy still apply at national, continental, and global scales?

This challenging question was raised by Victor De Luca, President of The Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, during a recent National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) book webinar. The Noyes Foundation is wholly committed to catalyzing change, supporting movements around environmental justice and reproductive rights, among other issues. And De Luca knows politics—he doubles as Mayor of Maplewood, New Jersey.

De Luca was pretty much right. The donors we studied in writing Do More Than Give were predominately catalyzing change at the local level: The Jacobs Family Foundation’s economic revitalization of a vulnerable multi-cultural San Diego neighborhood; The Tow Foundation’s advocacy to reform the Connecticut juvenile justice system; even the The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation example in the book was counter-intuitively local—although Gates is most renowned for tackling global health challenges, we found rich evidence studying the Sound Families anti-homelessness initiative right in Gates’ own backyard in Washington state.

But there are exceptions: AVINA Foundation has committed to pan-continental change across Latin America. Case in point: Saving the Amazon. The world’s largest rainforest is bordered by nine Latin American states, and AVINA’s catalytic approach has been to develop a network and support local leaders in a cross-state Alliance (ARA) and fostering a collective action campaign to fight deforestation. But even in this example, the first significant results have manifested locally. In Brazil, nonprofit activists used a map developed by Alliance members with GIS technology that revealed the protected vs. vulnerable patches of rainforest. Then, they used the digital evidence to persuade senators and others of the need to change how the state regulated and punished the worst offenders while creating new economic incentives to encourage more sustainable behaviors. (Read the full story in Do More Than Give under “Practice #3: Forge Nonprofit Peer Networks.”)

The challenge with saving the rainforest—as with trying to solve any complex globally-interdependent problem—is scaling local results nationally or internationally. It goes back to the driving question behind my first book, Forces for Good, in which my coauthor and I studied high-impact nonprofits that had achieved national or global scale of impact in matter of decades. Each had done so successfully (otherwise they wouldn’t have made it into the book). Groups like City Year, YouthBuild, and Teach for America helped develop and pass new National Service legislation enabled hundreds of thousands of Americans to serve in domestic Peace Corps-type programs; Environmental Defense contributed to eliminating acid rain in North America by advocating for a cap-and-trade law that effectively reduced sulfur dioxide and other emissions such that that acid rain levels have dropped 65% since 1976. But these are nonprofit examples.

What is your experience? Please post here examples of foundations or individual donors who have significantly and directly contributed to achieving national, continental or global change. And if you’re a donor who’s done it, tell us—what’s your best advice to other funders who want to effect change on a very broad scale?



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