This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Tony Pipa. Tony is a founder and senior consultant to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and the former executive director of the Warner Foundation in Durham, NC.
By Tony Pipa
Is Performance Measurement Undermining Social Change?
Becoming more strategic and measuring one’s effectiveness is all the philanthropic rage. It’s a movement with merit, as most foundations were ripe to benefit from more rigor and analysis in their work.
But as I watch the field move in almost reflexive fashion to adopt quantitative performance measures and require high-impact modeling from prospective grantees, I fear it may be eroding its potential to stimulate social change at the deepest levels. As Katherine Fulton, president of the Monitor Institute, recently asked at an event sponsored by the Stanford Center for Social Innovation: Would today’s new philanthropies have funded the civil rights movement?
Pervasive social and economic inequities – the racial achievement gap in our public education system, the gaps in wealth among whites, blacks, and other communities of color – require more than technical fixes. They require grassroots leadership development, community building, political advocacy, and public problem-solving processes that involve and balance the interests of multiple stakeholders. This requires investment in ideas, people, and process that is often messy and non-linear. Progress along the way can be hard to discern.
In the current environment, the harder it becomes, the fewer there may be to take it on. I especially fear that in the quest for greater impact, more and more foundations will move away from investing at the very local, grassroots level where many of the ideas and leaders that transform communities are generated.
High-impact models, quantitative measures, improved business management – all are good and important tools. But, as in most things, moderation is key.
Transformational philanthropy is an art. It is necessary to be informed by scientific methods, but it will never be a science. And, as Paul Ylvisaker said 30 years ago, making social progress flow to those in need will require philanthropy to “move out of fixed and safe positions into more independent, flexible, and far more exposed stances between contradictory forces.” The current drive would appear to do exactly the opposite – provide cover, rather than inspire foundations to take even greater risks in leadership on the most difficult issues facing our society. I hope I’m wrong.