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Moving Toward a Better Future for Measurement

How can monitoring, evaluation, and learning become even more powerful tools for social sector leaders?

Take a minute to consider where you think monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) in philanthropy will be in 10 years.

It is possible that the future will be a continuation of what we see today. There is increasing demand for monitoring and evaluation, but effectively integrating results into decision-making remains a challenge. While there has been a flowering of new data methods, tools, and analytics, funders and grantees struggle with the complex landscape and limited resources. And despite a growing number of funders seeking to incorporate the voices of those they aim to help into their evaluation activities, MEL too often benefits foundations more than it does their grantees or the communities they serve.


By Rhonda Evans, Gabriel Kasper, & Tony Siesfeld / February 2017
The Calculus for Commitment: The Power of Involving the Private Sector in Social Impact Networks

Why social sector organizations should make engaging for-profit companies a normal part of their problem-solving strategies—and four ways to do it effectively.

The importance of engaging the private sector in efforts to address social problems is increasingly apparent. Wicked problems defy single-point solutions, and no single organization or sector working in isolation can solve them. This widespread understanding is matched by a growing number of businesses exploring the integration of social impact into their core strategies.


By Anna Muoio and Faizal Karmali / September 2016
Data as a Means, Not an End: A Brief Case Study

How the education nonprofit City Year tackled “measurement drift” by reorienting its measurement activities around one simple premise: Data should support better decision-making.

In 2014, City Year—the well-known national education nonprofit that leverages young adults in national service to help students and schools succeed—was outgrowing the methods it used for collecting, managing, and using performance data. As the organization established its strategy for long-term impact, leaders identified a business problem: The current system for data collection and use would need to evolve to address the more-complex challenges the organization was undertaking. Staff throughout the organization were citing pain points one might expect, including onerous manual data collection, and long lag times to get much-needed data and reports on student attendance, grades, and academic and social-emotional assessments. After digging deeper, leaders realized they couldn’t fix the organization’s challenges with technology or improved methods without first addressing more fundamental issues. MORE ››

By Tracie Neuhaus and Jarasa Kanok / July 2016
Four Questions to Ask Before You Engage with a Network

Funders want to create big change by using networks for social impact. But where to start?

When Jennifer Berman, executive director of the Maverick Lloyd Foundation in Vermont, wanted to re-orient her state’s approach to climate and energy challenges, she wondered whether launching a network of diverse stakeholders, working on different parts of the same problem, could be the right approach. “No effort had brought together a strategically chosen group of folks to think about where the state needed to go, mapped out how to get there, and created the capacity for that group to do work over time,” she said.


By Anna Muoio and Kaitlin Terry / May 2016
Challenging the orthodoxies of philanthropy

Are traditional assumptions about how we “do” philanthropy preventing us from finding new and better ways of working? 

Success stories about social change rarely start with large guns. But, as it turns out, there’s a lot that philanthropy can learn from looking at the history of artillery—the cannons that would get drawn to the edge of a battlefield, first by horses and later by large trucks, to shell the enemy from a distance.

According to military folklore, shortly before World War II the US and British armies conducted a joint exercise and came to a strange realization: The American artillery team fired just a little bit faster than the British squad every time. They analyzed the process MORE ››

By Gabriel Kasper and Jess Ausinheiler / June 2015
The Value Exchange Tool: building business-nonprofit partnerships that last

A recurring theme that has emerged in our conversations with nonprofits and social enterprises in recent months is the perception that, even as strides are made in cross-sector collaborations, a persistent power imbalance exists in partnerships with for-profit corporations. Social sector organizations clearly see significant benefits of partnering with a corporation – but they often struggle to articulate the value they bring to the relationship, in terms that resonate with their corporate partner. We have created a simple value exchange tool (download here) to help non-profits and social enterprises more crisply articulate the kinds of value they stand to offer for-profit partners and would expect to gain in return—one that we believe is valuable for business leaders as well. MORE ››

By Jarasa Kanok and Megan Schumann / May 2015
8 common innovation traps

Innovation, it seems, is easier said than done. Despite growing interest in applying innovation methodologies to social sector challenges over the past decade, more often than not, philanthropic efforts to support innovation fall short.

That’s because the processes, strategies, and structures that funders need to deliberately seek out and support innovation are often quite different from the ones they use for traditional grantmaking—a lesson many funders learn the hard way.

In our SSIR article “The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation” last year, we highlighted many specific approaches that innovation funders are now using. But we find that many grantmakers still end up falling into one or more “innovation traps”—common MORE ››

By Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux / May 2015
Wicked problems are being recast as wicked opportunities

I want to talk to you about “wickedness”–but not the kind of wickedness you’re thinking. Since the 1960s, we’ve had a term to describe public health crises like malaria—and also rising crime, climate change, joblessness, and other persistent ills. They are “wicked problems.” Wickedness isn’t a degree of sheer difficulty. It means the problem springs from many diverse sources, is emergent and shifting, and will never have one right answer.

In a new feature article I co-authored with William Eggers in the 2015 Deloitte Business Trends report we make the case for seeing wicked problems as wicked opportunities.  MORE ››

By Anna Muoio / April 2015
New research: how companies are successfully building sustainability and inclusivity into the heart of their business practices

For many years, economic growth in emerging markets has outpaced the development of state and civil society institutions, giving rise to political, social and environmental challenges. But where companies once viewed these challenges as issues to ameliorate through corporate philanthropy, today many of these challenges pose immediate threats to companies’ expansion and long-term success. This is now the case in both the emerging and mature markets that offer the most promising growth opportunities.

Consider the case of Yum! Brands. It derived MORE ››

By Tony Siesfeld / October 2014
In case you missed it: our perspective on the importance of foundation innovation

We’ve been heartened by the warm response to our piece about the importance of supporting innovation, which SSIR ran as its cover story in February. To continue the conversation, we wrote up additional thoughts in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which ran in early August and was the newspaper’s most-read article on the day it came out. Just in case you missed it–easy to do in today’s blizzard of social media–here it is again. Stay tuned for further thoughts from us later in the year, as we continue digging in to the importance of taking risks in philanthropy and what it means to be effective as an innovation funder.


By Noah Rimland Flower / September 2014
New insights into the craft of incentive prize design

Prize competitions increasingly serve as a creative mechanism for foundation and government leaders to engage the public, drive innovation and pay for results. In a new report, my co-authors and I at Doblin (the innovation practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP) explore how governments and philanthropies can solve public sector problems through the use of incentive prizes. The report, The Craft of Prize Design: Lessons from the Public Sector offers the most exhaustive exploration yet completed of incentive prizes within and around the public sector and provides new trend data, practical design guidance, and case studies that can be applied to the public, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

This report was generously supported by six MORE ››

By Jesse Goldhammer, practitioner at Deloitte Consulting LLC / June 2014
Strategic philanthropy is smart but not wise

The Summer 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review contained updated perspective on strategic philanthropy, “Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World.” Katherine Fulton’s response to the piece was published on the website alongside seven others

Strategic philanthropy is smart but not wise. That is why so many seasoned social change leaders have voiced doubts about it, publicly and privately, since it gained prominence and adherents. Peel away the theory the authors now expound, and what you have is praiseworthy common sense. Their argument is both well articulated and overdue.

That said, knowing what to do and being able to do it are two fundamentally different things. The approach outlined here MORE ››

By Katherine Fulton / May 2014
How emerging-market growth is turning business leaders into to social problem-solvers

Growth will involve engaging with the social needs and complexities of emerging and frontier markets. These issues are no longer just the government’s responsibility, or purely philanthropic efforts. This is the contention of our recently-released section in Deloitte Consulting’s Business Trends 2014: Navigating the Next Wave of Globalization.

Throughout the developing world, water, sanitation, and hygiene are matters of life and death. Every 20 seconds, a child under five dies from a waterborne illness. Eighty percent of diseases are related to contaminated water, and more than 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water.  MORE ››

By Tony Siesfeld and Rhonda Evans / April 2014
New findings: how to bring inclusive industries to scale

There has been increasing interest around the world in the role that inclusive businesses, which engage and benefit the global poor, can play in the fight against the problems of poverty. However, disappointingly few of these have achieved the scale required to make a significant difference. An analysis of over 400 such firms in Africa showed that a mere 13% of them had begun to scale. Now, in Beyond the Pioneer: Getting Inclusive Industries to Scaleour colleagues at Monitor Inclusive Markets share new findings that explain why this is the case, along with recommendations for how these problems can be overcome. MORE ››

By Noah Rimland Flower / April 2014
The re-emerging art of funding innovation

This post was first published on PhilanTopic.

As philanthropy has gotten more strategic over the last decade, many foundations have begun to lose their appetite for risk and experimentation. But a small number of funders have begun to intentionally seek out and support high-risk, high-reward innovations with the potential to truly transform our most intractable social challenges.

In our recent article, “The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation,” we explore the processes and practices used by these “innovation funders” and look at how funding breakthrough innovation differs from more traditional grantmaking approaches. The article is the cover story for the just-released Spring issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and can be found here on their site. MORE ››

By Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux / March 2014
Collaboration above the fray: designing strategic conversations that matter

“Systemic challenges can’t be solved by visionary leaders alone. They require creative collaboration among colleagues with different roles and perspectives. They require strategic conversations that get above the fray of daily concerns and narrow self-interest to focus on longer-term priorities and collective purpose.”

That’s the core contention of our long-time colleagues Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon in a new book/toolkit combination called Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change. MORE ››

By Noah Rimland Flower / January 2014
Let the scaffolding fall

This post was written as a response to the new report “Impact Investing 2.0,” and was first published on the report’s micro-site

Make no mistake: the new research reported in “Impact Investing 2.0” is a significant contribution. We applaud it, even though the authors take direct aim at some of the concepts of “Impact Investing 1.0” we helped create.

In our widely distributed and discussed January 2009 report, “Investing for Social & Environmental Impact: A Design for Catalyzing an Emerging Industry,” we argued that impact investing was in the midst of a MORE ››

By Katherine Fulton and Carolien de Bruin / November 2013
Collaborative technologies: reducing the friction in the system

Earlier today, Monitor Institute and the Foundation Center released a new report called Harnessing Collaborative Technologies: Helping Funders Work Together Better. As part of the research, we looked at more than 170 different technological tools now available to funders, dove deeply into the literature on philanthropic collaboration, analyzed the results of recent Foundation Center surveys, and spoke with a wide range of experts from the worlds of both technology and philanthropy.

The report’s main headlines won’t come as a huge surprise to MORE ››

By Gabriel Kasper / November 2013
Flipping orthodoxy

By Curtis Ogden (originally published on the IISC blog)

During his presentation at this week’s Council of Foundations Conference for Community Foundations, Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper talked about the need for innovation in community philanthropy. This included a call to examine orthodoxy in our organizations and communities, that is, the behaviors and procedures that we often take for granted with respect to the way we go about our business.  This notion of orthodoxy was developed by the MORE ››

By Guest author / October 2013
The five stages of social innovation at scale

This post is the sixth (and final) in a series published by Stanford Social Innovation Review. 

We’ve learned a lot from our work helping large-scale nonprofits find ways to create social innovation at scale. As we’ve explored in the last five posts, we’ve helped them reconnect with their core purpose and realign their network around shared goals, and in the process, we’ve worked with them to reinvent their organizations, business models and brands. Looking across all of these cases, our single most important lesson learned is that this work is most effective MORE ››

By Heather McLeod Grant / September 2013