Sean’s Note: As someone who cares deeply about the field of philanthropy, I’ve long tracked the activities of the Hewlett Foundation’s philanthropy program. In recent years, the Gates Foundation has focused more time and attention on their own philanthropy program under the leadership of Darin McKeever. I’ve asked Darin for an overview of his program’s activity. Rather than our typical "guest post" format, this is an in-depth program update by him. Read Part I here.
By Darin McKeever
In Part I, I described some of the thinking that went into the new strategy for the Charitable Sector Support portfolio. Today, I wanted to share a bit more about what we’ve done, what we’re learning, and what projects are still in progress.
Policy Advocacy & Research
In this initiative, we seek to foster a supportive policy environment for charitable activity by strengthening the sector’s advocacy capabilities and by stimulating the development of more timely and research-based policy proposals.
Some of the highlights of our work in this area include:
- We worked with ARNOVA to convene a symposium on “Public Policy Issues for Nonprofits.” Co-funded by the C.S. Mott and Kresge Foundations, the meeting of researchers, association leaders, and practitioners produced a set of timely research topics for the field and helped us to refine our research-related grantmaking.
- We funded the Urban Institute and the National Council of Nonprofits to conduct the first comprehensive, 50-state survey of government-nonprofit contracting relationships and analysis of problems in the individual states. Responding to reports by nonprofits that late payments and other contracting problems were weakening service delivery systems and threatening the viability of organizations, the study and related outreach have already spurred efforts to improve contracting and collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels.
- We also just announced a grant to the Urban Institute’s nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy to produce briefs, estimates, and additional research and convenings on various tax policy proposals and their effects on charities and charitable giving.
Data, Standards, and Tools for Collaboration & Measuring Impact
In this initiative, we seek to bolster the charitable community’s general capabilities to distinguish between higher impact and lesser impact uses of resources.
How? For example…
- With the Foundation Center and others, we are working to improve the timeliness, specificity, and accuracy of foundation grantmaking data. We think advances in this area, such as creating or refining voluntary standards for coding and reporting, could ease and accelerate the transfer of knowledge in the sector and ultimately streamline both grantmaking and grantseeking.
- We are also co-funding the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project – a group looking at ways to improve the government’s collection and dissemination of data on the nonprofit sector. We believe modest improvements to the way Form 990 returns are filed and digitized could collectively save millions of dollars, reduce errors, improve charitable oversight, and make available more robust information for research and analysis.
- We have also started to consider ways to encourage the further development of tools that make use of social media and mapping technology to support collaboration, knowledge sharing, and impact measurement (e.g., TechSoup Global’s NGOsource, Foundation Center’s Philanthropy/Insight, and the Foundation Registry i3).
Behavioral Research on Charitable Giving
In this initiative, we are funding research on whether higher-quality and more accessible information can drive more money to the strongest nonprofits and increase the amount of funding directed to issues of inequity.
Currently, our chief project is an effort called Money for Good II. In May 2010, a Hope Consulting report called “Money for Good” found that most individual donors say they are satisfied with and loyal to the charities they support and rarely research the organizations they give to. Of those that do research, few do so for the purpose of identifying high-performing organizations, although there appear to be opportunities for shifting donor opinions with the right mix of data and presentation.
Led by GuideStar and Hope Consulting with additional funding from the Hewlett Foundation and Liquidnet for Good, the follow-on work we are funding focuses on how a broader range of users – including individuals, foundation program officers, and donor advisors – research charities and what specific types of information, packaging, and channels are most likely to shift current behavior toward giving to higher-performing nonprofits.
Summing It Up & Inviting Feedback
In these first 18 months or so, we’ve learned a considerable amount and, I hope, started to make some important contributions to the field.
I would be interested to hear from Tactical Philanthropy’s readers. What most excites you? What questions does this raise for you? What have we missed? I value and appreciate your comments.