Our Re-Commitments in 2012

As we start 2012 excited for new ventures and challenges, we look back on what we’ve learned and think about how the philanthropy sector is shaping up. Lucy Bernholz gives us a great jumping off point with her Philanthropy Buzzwords of 2011, detailing some of the most talked about and used (sometimes over-used) terms that bubbled up last year.  Here are three concepts – and our definitions – that our team is recommitting to in 2012:

Evidence-based practice

Since our center was launched 5 years ago, we’ve watched the “bubbling up” of this term recently with much interest. As with many philanthropic terms, ‘evidence-based’ seems to mean different things to different people. For us, it has always meant accessing the best available information from three sources: rigorous research, informed opinion, and field experience. Where all three sources point to the same practice or model, we see a high impact philanthropic opportunity. As Lucy points out “The spread of evidence-based practices seems to be in direct proportion to the growth of program-related investments, impact investing, and social-impact bonds, all tools that need external standards for success.” We would add that it is also central to practicing high impact philanthropy.

Social Impact Bonds (and their cousins)

The vision of our center is a world where capital flows to where it can do the most good. While charitable grants are one vehicle, social impact bonds and what we think of as their close relations – PRI’s, impact investments, etc. – represent alternative ways for individuals and institutions to deploy money for good. A few months ago, we began working even more closely with our partners at Wharton’s Program for Social Impact to understand this space and the opportunities and challenges it presents, so stay tuned in 2012 for guidance growing out of this collaboration. Speaking of collaboration . . .

Collective Impact

In John Kania & Mark Kramer’s 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, aptly named “Collective Impact,” the authors describe how “broad cross sector coordination” is essential to overcoming the scale and complexity of some of the most intractable social problems plaguing society.  We couldn’t agree more. While individual donors can make a tremendous difference, the greatest and most lasting impact has always come from the collective action of multiple players. Our guidance for donors provides 2 examples of ways to think about collective impact. Our Pathways guide offers a comprehensive framework that identifies the key in-school and out-of-school factors that affect a student’s life at every stage along their development, including the health and environmental factors that contribute to student success.  In our Teaching Quality report, we explicitly examine how the policy environment can support, impede or sustain the impact of donors’ philanthropic investments.

Here’s to an even more impactful 2012. Happy New Year!