Philanthropy Debate Questionnaire

I’ve tallied the answers to my questionnaire from yesterday and here’s the results.

Do you believe that nonprofits that provide free services to other nonprofits should decline to provide those services to nonprofits that are bad at what they do (poor at achieving their mission)?

This came back 50% saying yes, 30% saying no and 20% saying it needed to be decided on a case by case basis. In for-profit investing (my area of expertise), money flows to companies with the best future prospects. When you buy publicly traded stock, your money does not go to the company and therefore does not change their future prospects. Philanthropic donations do affect a nonprofit’s future prospects, so the funders ability to help a nonprofit improve is an important part of the equation. Nonetheless, I think this difference in mindset is a critical dividing element of this debate.

Do you believe that philanthropic funders should focus their resources on the highest performing nonprofits (the ones that have the best record or prospects for mission achievement)?

This one came back 70% yes, 10% no and 20% saying it depends. One person pointed out that small start up nonprofits should not be excluded due to lack of track record. Frankly, I was a little lazy in composing the question. Historical success is not the only measure of future performance. Startups should clearly receive funding, so I should have used language that pointed to predicted future performance.

Do you think that earned income strategies are preferable to philanthropic funding strategies?

Only one person answered yes to this question; a nonprofit employee. While Dave Chakrabarti is correct that many NetSquared judges did seem to prefer earned income strategies, the participants in this discussion don’t seem to hold that view.

Do you think it is inappropriate, at a nonprofit competition for philanthropic resources, for a moderator to say, “Some nonprofits just suck”?

80% of people said no. Dave Chakrabarti, who was on the receiving end of Mike Brown’s comment and Daniel Ben-Horin, founder of CompuMentor/TechSoup and a fellow board member of Mike Brown, both thought the comment was inappropriate. Appropriate or not, I’m amazed at the massive response that the comment sparked. Would we all be debating this topic if Mike had said “Some nonprofit just don’t do a good job”? Mike admitted in an early comment that he was engaging in hyperbole. It sure was effective.

Will you keep participating in these types of cross-disciplinary conversations as new issues develop on this blog?

Everyone answered yes to this question. In my mind, the most groundbreaking aspect of blog technology is the ease with which it allows two-way communication between the “speaker” and the “audience”. Because this blog has attracted readers with very diverse backgrounds, I think we have an opportunity break through the silo effect that grips much of philanthropy.

Mike’s use of the impolite term “suck” may have been more important than you might think. It may have even been a vital factor in facilitating communication as Susan Herr suggested recently while writing about a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that was critical of microfinance:

This sort of article, which debunks the silver bullet of the year, does far more than question a social change strategy achieving massive investment on both the profit and for-profit side. It also elevates the concept of philanthropic strategy, and the recognition made by discerning donors, that some dollars are spent more effectively than others. I’m not saying great philanthropists always bet on the right horse, but I’d like to believe the very best engage naysayers and rabble-rousers who can help them think outside the box. Unfortunately, that’s really hard to do in the all-too-polite club of American philanthropy.


  1. Well, we’ve now proven we’re not afraid of debating, discussing, even challenging each other. But where do we go from here? How do we turn this into more than interesting, even illuminating exercise and move the conversation beyond our limited circle of commentators so that these thoughts/suggestions are put in front of those in a position to act on them?

  2. Gerry says:

    It would be nice to move from challenge, competition and conflict to more collaborative approaches. Part of the divide over what organization models are appropriate comes down to how important you make cooperation vs. competition in the process. I claim that collaborative approaches are provably more effective and efficient with the gap widening at larger scales.

  3. Bruce,
    While this blog isn’t yet a high traffic site, the readership is growing quickly and includes many high profile foundation employees. I think that the conversation that we’re having is already “in front of those in a position to act” and will only be more so as the readership continues to grow.

    That being said, action is not always the result of conversation. So how can this conversation be designed to spur action is an important question.

  4. Glad to hear about the increased readership and that more of your readers are coming from foundations. Clearly we all have to keep pushing in our respective spheres of influence so the ideas being presented here and elsewhere get some traction.