Crowdsourcing the SoCap Conference

Within minutes of announcing that there would be a Tactical Philanthropy track at this year’s SoCap Conference we started getting emails from people who had suggestions for panels and speakers. So I’m glad to say that our plans for designing the track include soliciting your ideas and comments.

Below you’ll find a number of session concepts for the Tactical Philanthropy track. We would love to hear your feedback on these concepts, ideas you have for other sessions and your opinion of whether these sorts of concepts will draw the savvy donors, foundations and nonprofits who have in past years not been strongly represented at SoCap.

Nonprofit Analysis: Beyond Metrics

Nonprofit analysis, the evaluation of nonprofits to gauge their social investment potential, is a holistic process that does not lend itself well to simplistic financial measures. This panel will explore how donors should go about deciding which nonprofits to support and how much bang a donor can expect for their philanthropic buck.

Philanthropy Fail

The best laid plans don’t always work out so well. Since philanthropist can generate social impact through sharing what they’ve learned with others, sharing failure is a critical impact strategy. Join this brave group of donors and nonprofits as they share ways in which they’ve failed and what they’ve learned.

Information Sharing in Social Capital Markets

Profit is often derived from a firm’s access to proprietary information. However, social impact is often maximized by sharing important information with other market participants. This panel will explore how socially relevant information is valued differently in social capital markets and will offer strategies social capital market participants can use to maximize the social value of intellectual capital.

Replication vs. Diffusion: Does scaling social impact require scaling organizations or not?

A successful for-profit organization must maintain ownership of its concept while it scales in order to capture profit. But social impact accrues to the public, not the firm that owns the process that generates the impact. How should social enterprise weigh the tradeoffs between scaling their organization or scaling impact through sharing their process with others?

The Role of Philanthropy in the Social Enterprise Capital Structure

Most social enterprises receive either philanthropic capital or profit seeking capital. But there can be a role for each in both for-profit and nonprofit capital structure. What role can philanthropic capital play in helping social enterprises gain access to traditional market rate capital? What role does philanthropic capital have in kick starting new market driven industries?

Mission Related Investing: Why Foundations have NOT taken up MRI.

Mission related investing is seen as a way for philanthropic entities to align the 95% of their assets that they do not give away each year with their social impact goals. Yet for the most part MRI has not gained traction with the vast majority of funders. This panel will explore what is holding funders back and whether mission related investing will ever become mainstream.

The Changing Media Landscape for Philanthropy and Social Enterprises

Philanthropy has historical be covered by the mainstream media as a human interest story that either focused on “do gooders” or charitable fraud. But recent years has seen a growing interest within the mainstream media to examine philanthropy and the emergent social capital markets with a more analytical eye. Join our panelists as they explore the role of the media in the social capital markets.

Donations as a Sustainable Revenue Stream: Ending the Fixation on Earned Income

Charitable donations are less volatile then the overall economy, so why are they rarely seen as a sustainable revenue stream? Join our panelists as they discuss how nonprofits should view the role of charitable donations within a sustainable business model. Are donations a more sustainable source of revenue than the sought after “earned income”? Are donations not “earned”?

Individual Donors: Navigating the Social Capital Markets

Many of the most sophisticated, active participants in the social capital markets are institutions. But individual donors have fewer institutional constraints and can bear more social risk. Join three individual donors who are doing cutting edge work in the social capital markets without the help of a large staff.

When to Invest & When to Give

For all the talk of producing a blend of social and financial value through giving and investing, little is known about when a social investor can maximize their blend returns through a donation and when an investment is a better option. Given the choice to lend money to a nonprofit or make a donation, how should a social investor choose?

Please leave your thoughts as a comment to this post. Thanks for your input!


  1. Why not go even more radical? Have the philanthropy track involve no panels at all!

    Just kidding but only sort of..I imagine if it’s a track you are going to be using similar formats as the rest of the event, but I’m just thinking about watching another panel on nonprofit analysis. It’s a vital topic, but I honestly can’t imagine a panel — even with the absolute best of people — that really does the topic justice. It’s a gritty, difficult question and I think people need the chance to ask questions to people in positions of influence.

  2. I knew you were going to ask this question. I’m just surprised that you posted it so fast. So since SoCap does have a panel centric focus, how can we work within the framework to make these discussions more robust?

    In my post about last year’s conference, I mentioned that the audience at one of the panels I spoke on was so full of top people that I suggested that me and the other panelists step down halfway through and let some of the audience take over.

    How might be involve the audience more or otherwise make the panels more dynamic?

  3. Sean,

    I’m so excited to see the other side (nonprofit and philanthropic capital) getting more airtime at SoCap this year. A couple of thoughts on the great list of session topics you have above:

    -Love your session about mission-related investing, what about a session about PRIs as another under-used tool available to foundations and nonprofits?
    -It seems that the focus of the Tactical Philanthropy track is on the philanthropy side (makes sense) but I wonder if we are still missing the nonprofit side. You have two sessions that begin to get at how nonprofits should approach, or could capitalize on the socap market (scaling and sustainable revenue stream), but I wonder if there could be even more sessions on the nonprofit side of the equation (growth capital for nonprofit social entrepreneurs, creating a pitch for capital, articulating impact, to name a few).

    It seems to me that SoCap is focused on two audiences: investors (and now philanthropic investors with your new track), and for-profit social entrepreneurs. But I think there could be a whole series of sessions for nonprofit social entrepreneurs, giving them the language, tools, experience to begin to access some of this emerging social impact capital.

  4. Glad I’ve become predictable 😉

    It’s a tough question that actually has a lot to do with space. What I mean is that if you have a lecture hall, it’s hard to move away from a panel.

    You could do something where you used Audience Polling tools to get a read on what they most wanted to discuss in real time.

    You could, instead of a pure panel, have one or two people with a no-holds barred Q&A (Obama-GOP style)

    You could take your panels, split your room into groups, have each of the panelists have a discussion for a few minutes with their groups and then circle back to a panel where they bring back the tone and tenor of the room to the second half of the conversation.

  5. Nell,
    Very good point on our panels focusing on donor issue instead of nonprofit issues. I’ll see what we can do.

    Nathaniel, let’s talk more when we meet next week.

  6. Ed Skloot says:

    Good news on the new track; very much needed. I have a few ideas for you to ponder when putting it together, which I’ll quickly note.

    A session on why most foundations don’t change their behavior and move toward a more impactful style of grantmaking/investing. A behavioral economist, among others, would be useful to have if you do a panel. If we’re looking for more participation at higher $$ levels we’re not going to get too far with the creeping involvement by the supply side. There’s both a “not invented here” component as well as a non-rational reaction to the idea (among other things.)

    A session on how/whether metrics are helping or hurting a move to social investing – or their value overall. You know my concerned views here.

    A session on how technology is really affecting social investing. I don’t think we know, but it can’t be, yet, as transformative as many posit. (Lucy’s paper, with me and Barry Varela, will be out in final form in late spring.)

    You might want to track and discuss the Social Impact Exchange, since our first conference/competition/venture fair will be in June and we might have some interesting things to say about it. As you know, Cathy Clark, Greg Dees, Paul Bloom, Alex Rossides, Cynthia Massarsky and I are all involved.

    Just a few random ideas. I’m gonna go this year – at least to keep you honest. :^)

  7. Ed,
    I like your ideas a lot. I especially like the idea of involving behavioral economics. However, while I think people like the authors of Nudge, Freakonomics or Switch have a lot to teach our field, I don’t know that many of them have examined the social capital markets much. Do you know of any behavioral economists would could speak well to issues faced by foundations and other social capital market actors?

  8. During SoCap ’09, I was struck by the difference in capacity building support between a traditional VC investment and its analog in the social capital market. In the social sector, it seems that investors provide the capital to grow without the associated support and direction that is required. I would love to have seen a broader discussion of what it takes beyond dollars to make social sector investments succeed — human capital, technology, strategy, etc. This is essentially about the partnership role between funder and grantee focused on the success of the investment.

    Relatively recently, a new generation of socially-minded investors has learned to distinguish healthy capacity building from wasteful overhead and stopped propagating traditional philanthropy’s incredibly harmful practices of blinding focusing on maximizing the percent of each dollar that goes toward programming with no thought of organizational sustainability. But, venture philanthropy’s approach is still largely passive and leaves grantees with the freedom to invest in capacity building, but without the support and guidance to do so diligently and intelligently. This approach stops well short of truly supporting organizations to reach the next level, especially since left to their own devices many organizational leaders focus on old habits of under-investing in capacity growth as part of program expansion.

    As for-profit investors have a survival-based commitment to the success of their investments, those investors provide hands-on support to management, connect them with vendors, provide wrap around services, and even swap out managers as needed, all to ensure progression to the next level on behalf of their investments. Even the most enlightened foundations are just starting to dabble in such support. I would like to see this trend continue and nonprofit capital investors take a much more supportive and hands on approach to developing their grantees.

    I would love to see, and would be happy to help convene, panels of funders who are working along these lines (e.g. Clark Foundation), along with vendors that they are using as partners to address key capacity needs of their grantees (e.g. Bridgespan), and including organizations who are benefiting from such support (e.g. Youth Villages).

  9. Excellent idea James. Thanks for your offer of help.

  10. Panel-centric conferences can still have strong interactive components. It all depends on the moderator and having a moderator that really isn’t just another presenter.

    From many years struggling with this organizing NTEN ( sessions, IMHO, there are a couple of things that make a session effective:

    (1) Fewer, not more panelists. Yes, everyone has marketing reasons to want to get themselves on a panel, but 2-3 presenters + a moderator is the sweet spot.

    (2) Presenters are idea & discussion catalysts. They spend 10 minutes igniting the ideas of those in the room. The short, strictly enforced time limit is key and reduces meandering and pontificating.

    (3) 30-50% of the session is focused on interactive. The simplest version is Q&A. Sure, the first few min tend to be people looking at one another, but a good moderator can get folks engaged.

    Another interactive strategy is to do some work. “Beyond Metrics” could generate the top 5 non-financial metrics the audience thinks should/would be compelling to social investors.

    These approaches work really well with 20-30 people in a session and degrades quickly in effectiveness past 50.

  11. Thanks David,
    Maybe some of these suggestions can help get to where Nathaniel would like to see us going!

  12. Tris Lumley says:

    I’m excited to see this new track for philanthropy and nonprofits – just what SoCap needs!

    A few ideas for sessions:

    1. Assessment in Action – One of the things we lack across the field is the stories and case studies of what actually happens when nonprofits and donors/foundations get serious about measuring, analysing and communicating their impact. Some of us believe in the value of measurement, but without evidence of the benefits of measurement, we don’t have the moral and business case that’s really going to change behaviour across the sector.

    So the session would do two things: a broad discussion of what the benefits really are (e.g. outcomes improved by having data from which to learn, models shared and replicated, morale increased through recognition of real impact, increased fundraising/profile because of proven impact) and people contributing 1 minute examples from real nonprofits/donors that they then promise to write up and submit to a central portal where they’ll be gathered.

    2. Metrics people – Outside of the small group of experts working on social impact assessment frameworks and approaches, what’s going on to network the people actually involved in this practice? The staff member in a nonprofit who cares about measuring impact but can’t get their board excited about it. The grants officer in a foundation with a responsibility for evaluation but unable to practically reorient their organisation around evidence-based decision-making. The MBA graduate looking at the nonprofit sector but unsure where to start with outcomes. The evaluation consultant wanting to embed measurement capacity in nonprofits. The research analyst in an intermediary advising donors.

    Couldn’t all these people benefit from a network to bring them together specifically around impact measurement? If so, what would it do? NPC ran a conference in London and is exploring setting up a network this year in Europe. Is there an appetite for a US network in parallel? What would/could/should it do?

    3. Impact across the philanthropic / social investment divide – a discussion of whether impact measurement is different for nonprofits and social enterprises.

    If not, why do approaches to infrastructure in these spaces appear not to be joining up?

    If so, what are the opportunities to piggyback each other?

    4. Echoing a point I think Ed Skloot’s making, about fears around measurement, a debate on the philosophy of measurement, markets and metrics. Are proponents of measurement trying to wring the values, passion and relationships out of civil society to be replaced by numbers and targets? Is measurement actually helping nonprofits or donors to learn, reassess and readjust their strategies and missions? Is impact measurement in the middle of a hype cycle – after the initial enthusiasm for what social impact measurement would tell us, are we now in the ‘trough of disillusionment’ as we realise the techniques aren’t yet mature enough and they’re not yet able to deliver on their promise? If we are, what do we do now?

    Perhaps we could get some of the most recently vocal critics of current directions in the impact measurement field to participate and get a real debate going…

  13. Adnan Mahmud says:

    Sean, you provided a great starting list of ideas and it looks like the readers have given you some great ideas too. Here are some of my ideas based on my experience:

    1) It would be great to re-focus on “why we do what we do?” There has been a lot of terminology being thrown around (e.g. philanthropy, social capital, creative capitalism, social entrepreneurship, social media for social good, and more) and we continue to define all these new terms in our own ways. It is exciting to see that there is so much interest in this sector. However, amidst all this enthusiasm, we have a great opportunity to take a step and just remind ourselves that at the end of the day our actions and choices must align with the needs/wants of those we are trying to help. Let’s identify the problems from the perspective of those in need, let’s build solutions that would work for them, and let’s measure impact using metrics that makes sense for them. I am not sure there needs to be a whole panel or topic dedicated to this. I see this more as a theme to rally around.

    2) I would love to see a discussion around “what is true impact?” I see few comments around measuring impact. Traditionally, the focus has been on quantifiable results like # of children educated or # of water wells added, poverty rates, etc. But, is that really a good measure of true impact. Again, from the perspective of the beneficiary is it enough to just go to school? Should we be placing more focus on measuring long term impact, even though it is more expensive to do so?

    3) Continuing from the previous point, we can probably have a very riveting discussion around micro-philanthropy and macro-philanthropy. For example, the Gates foundation supports more macro-level development solutions/research while many other non-profits in the community address current needs and small-scale hostistic solutions. We need both small- and large- scale philanthropy and the challenge is how to strike a balance. Should more philanthropic dollars be going towards macro-philanthropy like the Gates Foundation or to micro-philanthropy? Should there be more communication between the two and if so how?

    4) Related to the previous point, how can organizations be mindful of the bigger picture while building solutions. How do we make sure small non-profits are implementing targeted solutions but are mindful of the larger context? For example, let’s say an organization is just focused on helping more children go to school in under-developed regions. If there is no focus on stabilizing the bigger factors such as the political and economic climate of the regions, then, there might not be enough jobs for the students once they graduate. So, how do we balance building targeted solutions but also affect large issues. Businesses do this quite well and it would be great to share some of their experiences/learning with non-profits.

    5) It is really exciting to see the level of interest in our sector. There are many non-profits working to solve many different problems. As singular organizations, our reach is quite limited. However, as a group we have a huge reach in terms of impact. So, can we build a framework that encourages and rewards collaboration amongst organizations? I believe SoCap is a perfect opportunity for us to come together and figure out we can band together and help each other out.

    6) From my past conference experiences, I feel the best sessions were the interactive ones. So, here are some suggestions on interactive items in the conference:
    a. Limiting panel introductions so that more time is spent in direct Q&A with audience.
    b. Doing some sort of “unconference” type sessions where folks come together to brainstorm around certain topics like how to fundraise, mistakes in my organization, etc.
    c. Having a tradeshow like event for couple of ours where you invite ~30 organizations to set up booths and attendees can walk around and see what others in the sector are doing.
    d. You can preceed the tradeshow bit by a “blitz”-like talks where each organization has 2 mins to present their work. So, 30 organizations will take 1 hour for presentations and another couple of hours of tradeshow.

    Since I have never attended SoCap in the past, I am not sure if some of my ideas above are physically/logistically impossible to pull off. However, I hope this provides some contstructive ideas for you to consider.

  14. Thanks Adnan. Great ideas. I especially like the micro/macro point. SoCap does include a number of your logistical ideas. But we can always make it better!

  15. Autumn says:

    Kat and I were discussing the topics/session ideas and narrowed down on 3 that directly apply to our work at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy.

    1. Nonprofit analysis: Beyond metrics.
    There has been a lot of debate on whether we are putting too much emphasis on metrics in articles such as the SocialEdge, Fetishization of Metrics:; Anand Giridharadas’, Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception;, and Kat’s recent op-ed in the PSIJ, Lessons Learned from Answering the Million Dollar Question”:

    2. Information sharing in Social Capital Markets.
    The kind of information that needs to be shared and understood in order to create solutions comes from multiple sources. “Breaking down the silos” across sectors is another way to look at it. We attempt this in our 3 circles approach:

    3. Per Sean’s Daily Digest. Kevin Doyle Jones’ blog titled, Haiti: More than a flavor of the month:,com_wordpress/Itemid,64/p,1011. We’ve recently turned our focus on Haiti and are preparing a case example to present at the Global Philanthropy Forum in April, as well as an investment guide that will be released later in the year. You can see related posts here:

    The comments here are great- I’m glad to see Adnan’s comments regarding a type of “lessons learned” from previous conference experiences.

  16. Laura Deaton says:

    Hi, Sean – I think your proposed sessions are great, and like Nell, love seeing some added emphasis on nonprofit entrepreneurs. It actually leads me to what I didn’t hear above (but that seems a very timely discussion) around the impact of “sector blur” and the emerging 4th sector within the broader framework of communities as a whole, too. Adnan’s point about stabilizing the political and economic climate led me to think that a panel about topical “cross-sector ventures” or “multi-sector philanthropic initiatives” could be really interesting, too. Although most human conditions are cross-sector challenges (education, environment, etc), unemployment is a great example right now as all three sectors are boldly tackling the same issue. A panel that really engages different sector perspectives and that includes a philanthropist working actively on that issue (or another similar issue) would be fascinating.

  17. kevin jones says:

    I’m learning a lot from this. Thanks Sean and everybody else. I love what Sean is doing and what everybody is contributing.

  18. Carla Javits says:

    Sean: Great track for SoCap. A few specific thoughts below. And a hearty endorsement of James Weinberg’s ideas about capacity building – right on point.

    Nonprofit Analysis: Beyond “Normal” Metrics

    Would be great to take the conversation to a new place (there’s already been a lot of conversation along the lines of “stories are important too”) – but there hasn’t been much expansion of the concept of “metrics”, or “what counts as counting”….metrics are still looked at (especially by “social capital” folks) through the usual financial lens.

    Information Sharing in Social Capital Markets
    I am not sure if I fully understand this one; but one concrete window that might illuminate some of these issues is ‘place based’ efforts where sharing data and information across foundations and nonprofits could be valuable, but there are few incentives to do so. The CA Endowment’s new place-based program could offer some thoughts, as well as Casey and/or Hewlett. Policylink also might have some ideas.

    Replication vs. Diffusion: Does scaling social impact require scaling organizations or not?
    Great topic. Gets into another discussion you’ve raised on the efficiency/impact continuum – it’s one thing to run efficiently, but not so great if you don’t generate impact; and it’s another thing to generate impact, but not so great if your operation is so poorly run that you can’t maintain it, and/or scale it. There are a range of approaches to discuss here. Might be interesting to get people who have done a lot of work on scaling from the CDC world (Enterprise or LISC); and also City Year, Citizen Schools, Youthbuild, or even Goodwill at the table…..

    Individual Donors: Navigating the Social Capital Markets
    Hope you will ask both what philanthropic giving loses by not having an institutional underpinning as well as what it gains

  19. Jacob Samuelson says:

    Chiming in late, but I agree with comments that it would be fascinating to hear a discussion from behavioral economists. The thinkers who share a more sophisticated understanding of human decision-making and have studied financial markets, could shed light on issues in our sphere that combines social and environmental impact with financial returns.

    On Ed Skloot’s point about foundations moving slowly to adopt different models, perhaps our natural tendency to exhibit belief perseverance (hanging onto our old poor models long after we should have thrown them out) can help explain some of this behavior? If people tend to make anchoring errors (when making complex quantitative judgments we start from an arbitrary initial estimate and then allow that initial estimate to influence our future judgments), we may run into trouble when discussing return expectations in blended markets? We know people show availability bias when investing (over-weighting evidence that can quickly be recalled and thereby causing decisions to be influenced by more salient evidence and headlines). If we have inefficient and/or inconsistent ways to “measure” impact and often rely on narrative alone to communicate social outcomes, does this make us more susceptible to these biases?

    Thaler and Sunstein (Nudge) would be extraordinary. While I don’t know his direct discussion the topic, Dan Ariely is someone I put out there as a suggestion (Predictably Irrational). I wouldn’t put Levitt and Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, particularly in this set. These authors are often are making quite a different argument, highlighting places where we people operate under principles of rationality, but just in places we don’t expect.

    Great discussion here.

  20. Jacob,
    Great point regarding Levitt & Dubner being in a different camp. While not behavioral economists, Chip and Dan Heath tap into some of the same issue in their new book Switch (which is about how to get people to change).

    My concern in doing a behavioral economic panel is that I’m not sure if Thaler, Ariely, the Heaths or any other behavioral economist has addressed the cognitive bias prevalent in philanthropy.

    I’ve asked people specifically for ideas on on how to structure this panel in my post today.