Leopards can change their spots…

I have just been reading the fantastic conference program for the recent European Foundation Centre Conference in Belfast. From 6-8 June 2012, more than 500 foundation professionals from Europe and around the world gathered for the 23rd EFC Annual General Assembly and Conference to learn about, share and debate issues surrounding peace and social justice and other pressing philanthropic topics, from education to the financial crisis.  Take a look….  Definitely one to think about for next year (30 May – 1 June in Copenhagen, Denmark)!!

One of the many fantastic concurrent sessions open to delegates was Shedding light on our own practice: the impact and effect of our own behaviour.  And it offers a nice follow-on from the Eggs’ most recent post,  The Never Changing World of Philanthropy .

Shedding Light is a research project supported by Adessium Foundation, FACT, Fondation Philanthropia Lombard Odier, Oak Foundation and Pears Foundation, and coordinated by European philanthro-gurus Judith Symonds, David Carrington and Karen Weisblatt.  It’s part of the European Philanthropy Learning Initiative, a relatively new initiative which aims to strengthen learning and knowledge about philanthropy in Europe, to help Foundations positively enhance what they do.*

Consultations with 26 Foundations of varying sizes, histories and priorities from across Europe were carried out, specifically in preparation for the EFC Conference.  Each Foundation was asked a series of detailed questions about their work, practises and performance, and the responses were used to formulate recommendations regarding the practical steps every Foundation could take to improve or change how they do their work, to help them achieve more.  The recommendations formed the basis of the session discussion.  Instant grant-making think-tank!

There were two major things that stood out from the consultations: the need to enhance opportunities for peer learning and the need to develop a community of practice. In fact, one of the key recommendations was that a group of foundations from across Europe should form a community of practice to lead by providing resources, working to a jointly agreed plan, celebrating and promoting learning initiatives, supporting new initiatives and encouraging other organisations to take action.  Session participants were invited to be creative and critical in response to the findings.  Wow.  I bet it was a very long, impassioned discussion!  It certainly would be here but it sounds like a conversation well-worth having if it helps us to improve what we do.

Discussions from the session will be fed into a final report which has an as yet unannounced publication date.  I’ll keep you posted!

*The European Philanthropy Learning Initiative is an informal collaboration of donors and consultants. The first stage of the initiative, which was launched in 2009, commissioned a report, The Application of Learning and Research to Philanthropy (David Carrington)

You can follow the musings of Claire Rimmer on Twitter via @ClaireMRimmer or the blog via @3eggphil


2012 Trends in Philanthropy: Data

This is the final installment of our three-piece post examining what 2012 has in store for philanthropy. We’re taking our lead from Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012 which notes three big shifts in store for the sector this year. Today we’ll be taking a look at data and it’s role in creating the social good.

Data and the desire to accumulate it tends to fall in and out of fashion in Australian philanthropic circles. Opponents compare the collation with the chains of government bureaucracy or worse still, that overly self-indulgent practice of ‘naval gazing’. On the flip side of the argument you have proponents espousing data as a commodity every bit as important as the currency distributed through grants.

Gone are the days of data being considered simply numbers on a spreadsheet.  The Blueprint paints a wonderful picture of the changing face of data and how we use them:

In reality, anything that can be digitized can become data. This includes items that start out digitally – photos, videos, cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments. It also includes things we convert to digital form – books, old newspapers, films, music, and the content of our file cabinets. Once this material is digitized and we can click on it, “like” it on Facebook, or share it via Twitter with friends we create another layer of data.

Data allows for the impact of our philanthropy to be captured, shared and understood in ways like never before. Equally we can better and more quickly measure the campaigns people respond to and as a result help to bring resources and effort to major issues more quickly. As individuals we can donate via text messaging (not as well as we should be able to here in Australia), crowd funding, Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, and an array of other web tools – all of which leave a trail of giving data behind. We respond and interact with data in today’s world – we are the creators the next role is to become the curators.

So has philanthropy in Australia responded to this changing landscape of data collection and use? In grantmaking philanthropists have long backed data collecting and building in the area of medical research but the sciences have a longer history of utilizing the power of data in their research and storytelling.  For the community sector the sell to philanthropy is much tougher. Research, evaluation and data collection doesn’t excite philanthropists in the same way that getting tangible things done on the ground does.

The community sector is not alone in being under resourced to measure and understand its own impact. The philanthropic sector, which houses huge amounts of data, makes precious little use of any of it. The tide is slowly turning however.  The Centre for Social Impact is undertaking mapping work, led by former Philanthropy Australia CEO – Gina Anderson,  to examine where some of Australia’s major trusts and foundations are making gifts. Research at Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies is exceptional and building, while Swinburne University continues to grow its credentials in this space.  All of these are positive advances but more can be done and is required.

Data is powerful.  It helps us to tell our stories.  To excite and teach us.  Data helps us to build a picture of where we are as a society and where we might be headed.  How we use and interact with data in 2012 has the potential to influence the trends we will be seeing in 2013.  Is Australia’s philanthropic sector ready for this shift?  I have my doubts but there is a slow movement occurring. Let’s revisit at the end of the year.

If you have not already done so, head to the Philanthropy 2173 Blog to get your hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil


Verbal reporting… the next step in effective philanthropy?

Louise Kuramoto is a Grant Researcher at the Myer Family Company. She works with families, foundation and corporates providing philanthropic research, administration and strategic advice with regard to their philanthropy.

Engaging effectively with grantees is something that many philanthropists and philanthrocrats alike strive to achieve but are we really getting it right? And when I talk of ‘engaging effectively’ I am not talking of post application feedback but rather the day-to-day relationships you hold with your grantees.

So, where do you sit on the spectrum? Think of a program you have funded and ask yourself three questions;

1. Do I have the direct contact details of the person managing or responsible for the program and have I had a conversation with them?

2. Can I explain the program’s three main challenges to achieving its objectives?

3. Am I aware of the program’s progression (or otherwise!) in the last six to twelve months?

For those of you who could not confidently answer ‘yes’ to each of the above questions you may want to give verbal reporting further consideration.

Otherwise known as face-to-face reporting, verbal reporting is a tool that some foundations have been using to varying degrees as a way to truly understand the organisations they fund and the complexities and challenges of the areas in which they work. Foundation staff cite that the reduction of paperwork for both the funded organisation and the philanthropic body is a bonus, but the real benefits of verbal reporting lie in the face-to-face interactions they have with their grantees. It is these face-to-face meetings they state, that have proved to facilitate a more open and honest dialogue between the two parties, consequently enabling the foundation to form a true partnership with its grantees and in turn, yield better results.

The Myer Family Company, in collaboration with The Portland House Foundation, held a forum late last year to explore this topic further, specifically focusing on The Portland House Foundation’s reporting model which encompasses:

  • A high trust, low documentation process;
  • The CEO or leader of the funded organisation committing to attend at least one face-to-face reporting meeting per year (this meeting would also include a number of other funded organisations who verbally report on their projects); and
  • Supplementary documentation (such as financials etc.) is requested as needed.

The organisations represented at the forum also described the verbal reporting process as highly beneficial to their work because it provides a ‘safe’ environment whereby their organisational and project challenges can be offered for discussion and brainstorming with the donor and other attendees. This point is especially pertinent for us philanthropists/crats, who have a tendency to focus on financial giving and at times underestimate the value of the non-financial support we are able to offer. Whether it’s as a sounding board to discuss program design or harnessing the skills, knowledge or networks of board members, the value these links and expertise can leverage is often much more than any monetary figure the donor could provide.

So next time you seek an update on a particular project or receive an application in the mail, think about picking up the phone and organising a meeting with your grantee, it might change your outlook entirely.

You can follow Louise on Twitter @LouKuramoto or the Myer Family Company via @MF_Philanthropy


The LLEAP Survey Report: A conversation starter for education funders

It was exciting yesterday to see the release of the 2011 Survey Report for the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research study. The Report documents the responses to the inaugural LLEAP survey provided by 300 schools, non-profits and philanthropic bodies working in the education space.

The release of the Report marks the first real milestone for the LLEAP team and everyone involved in shaping the research program. Those organisations and individuals who have given their time generously to be involved in the interview phase, focus groups and in the completion of the survey have done so out of a commitment to finding better ways to work towards improving educational outcomes.

The LLEAP research is the first of its kind in Australia to bring together schools, non-profits and trusts & foundations to examine the role and impact of philanthropy in education.

For me, one of the more eye-opening aspects of the Report relates to the number of disconnects in priorities and target audiences among respondent schools, non-profits and philanthropic organisations. This is perhaps best demonstrated by schools clearly ranking teachers and teacher quality highly in terms of need for support and yet this need is not reflected in the highest priorities of philanthropic and non-profit respondents.

There are three main themes to come out of the Report with respect to the barriers faced by schools, non-profits and philanthropy.  For schools, it’s that their capacity to find and access philanthropic dollars is poor. For non-profits, the issue of short term funding and program sustainability is hindering their capacity to be as effective as they could be. For philanthropy the barriers are what the report refers to as “knowledge issues” (specifically the who, how and why of collaboration and best practice).

The great thing about the Survey Report is that it is a conversation starter.  The survey results are simply that; survey results. How we use and interpret the results however can potentially influence our practices and decision making. We’ll be exploring some of the issues the Report has thrown up on this blog in the coming weeks and would love you to join in the on the conversation.

Caitriona Fay is a member of the LLEAP Project Team. You can follow her musings on Twitter via @cat_fay and get the latest from the Eggs via @3eggphil