WORKING TO KEEP UP WITH THE SPEED OF IDEAS

This is an excerpt taken from Paul T. Hogan’s Keynote address at the WNY Poverty Conference.

hoganAs we look back on 75 years of philanthropy, it’s interesting to see how rapid the pace of change has become. Like everything else in today’s world, philanthropy has been undergoing great change, especially at the national level. Larger foundations have become much more institutional, with complicated program infrastructures and lengthy org charts. ‘Learning and support’ communities surrounding them have blossomed. Evaluation services, data management services, professional development services, and associations by type and focus of foundations have flourished. Affiny groups have formed, and publications have boomed. Yes, philanthropy has arrived at a place where we can say with great pride: “It’s complicated.”

GREATER CHALLENGES FOR SMALLER FOUNDATIONS

Change has been more difficult for smaller foundations. Among the frst ‘adjustments’ has been the rise of the grantmaker’s learning network—the evolution in discussion from what organizations a foundation is giving to, to whether or not it’s actually doing any good.

As more and more information was generated by the larger foundations, it became possible for even small foundations to avail themselves of data, national models, best practices and more. It also became possible for foundations to talk about data-driven grantmaking, and to require non-profits to respond to the data that was beginning to pour in from everywhere. One catch to all this: the need for more staff, more interaction, and more strategic planning at the foundation level.

COLLECTIVE IMPACT LESSONS

Collective impact states that no social challenge can be addressed, let alone solved, in isolation from others. Education, health, employment, transportation—all are interrelated. This notion of collective impact is still evolving, and can be both rewarding and frustrating.

The major adjustment of collective impact, again learned at the national level and pushed out to the rest of us later, has been that networks cannot cohere well on a volunteer basis. If impact is to be achieved and sustained, there must be what’s called a ‘backbone organization’ that will attend to the care and feeding of the work of the network.

HOW TO MEASURE?

Here’s the most challenging of the adjustments that philanthropy has been trying to make over the past couple of decades: impact and outcome measurements.

The idea of ‘moving the needle’ is one that everyone ascribes to. Yet few want to—or are able to—undertake the effort and expense of actually demonstrating such movement.

Our reliance on data, while still strong, has been supplemented with our increasing reliance on other factors, like our developing sense of good leadership, and strong organizational culture, and other aspects of the internal workings of the organizations we are looking to support.

INVESTING IN LONGEVITY

Many of us have adjusted our attention and investments to capacity-building or organizational development or leadership development (take your pick on what to call it), with the expectation that such investment will produce stronger organizations and thus greater sustainable returns for the communities being served.

Philanthropy is beginning to make the adjustment to consider longevity as a more important factor. And the Oishei Foundation has made significant investments in support of this work.

While these are some of the most significant recent trends, none of this is transformational change.