Posts Tagged ‘Allison Fine’

Buffett-Gates Pledge, Criticism & Back to the Future

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Note: I made some additions to my post to give further context for why my imagination decided to wander into the realm of possible realities.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that despite the positive press coverage the Buffets-Gates Giving Pledge has received here in the United States, it has been widely criticized in Europe.

Take this quote from Guardian columnist Peter Wilby:

“If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don’t kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill.”


German shipping magnate and multimillionaire Peter Krämer offers some more pointed criticisms:

“The rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That’s unacceptable.”

But I wonder.

Say we lived in a world like that. The world Krämer alludes to where the donors are NOT “taking the place of the state.” Would there be anything we’d be missing out on? Anything that exists because of foundation support, anything that would not have come into existence if it had to rely on government support only?

I’ll be honest, imagining a hypothetical reality and then trying to figure out what might be missing isn’t science. It’s conjecture. True. But interesting (to me at least) to consider nonetheless.

A Lesson From Back To the Future

So say we went back in time to the stop foundations from coming into being, stopping the field of Philanthropy as we know it. How would that change our present?

McFly siblings begin to disappear

Remember that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly realizes he’s prevented his parents from meeting and falling in love? His siblings begin to disappear from the photograph he’s carrying, disappear from existence. So what do you think might disappear if foundations hadn’t been around?

Would the government have funded health research and clinics for politically divisive heath issues such as AIDS research and Planned Parenthood? And what about research for illnesses that only affect small percentages of our population? Would they have received any funding or support?

Would Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow have existed in this different reality? Would the government have hired “Joan Ganz Cooney to study how the media could be used to help young children, especially those from low-income families, learn and prepare for school?”

And what about the Environment and Green movement?

What about civil right movements and the end of apartheid? What would they have looked like without philanthropic support?

Acknowledging the Need for Partnership

Back to reality now. The country we live in does have foundations and the work of funders has been a rich part of our society’s history and innovation. We can’t undo our past, we must learn from it and move forward.

Perhaps that’s where the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation comes in. Some would say that the creation of this office is the government’s acknowledgment that partnering with Philanthropy is in the best interest of all of us. After all, there are some things foundations can do that government cannot, e.g. experiment and take risks, respond nimbly and with less red tape.

I’m reminded of a quote by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine that I mentioned here on this blog a while back:

“complex social problems, and all social problems are complex by definition, outpace the capacity of any individual or single organization to solve them.”

No “one” entity can do it alone, can solve all our societal ills. It’s going to take all of us.

All of us.


Read the full Wall Street Journal article “Europeans Attack Buffett-Gates Pledge as Undemocratic” online.


Post Program Synthesis: Thoughts on Convergence Part II

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Welcome to the second installment of blog posts on this morning’s NCG and Foundation Center program “Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector.”

The first blog post gave an overview of the five trends and in this post I’ll focus on the competencies that David La Piana outlined for nonprofits of the future.

Key Competencies for Nonprofits of the Future

So now what? As you can see our world is evolving. And that means that we and our organizations need to evolve with it because the social sector’s landscape is changing and it will create new challenges for organizations.

David outlines key competencies that will help nonprofits face these challenges, they include:

  • Leadership, Management and Workforce Development: “The changes these trends bring about will call for a rethinking of the concept of nonprofit leadership, writ large…Nonprofits of the future will need to abandon overtly hierarchical management structures and adopt more collaborative cultures.” Take the example of “reverse mentoring” where nonprofit CEOs are mentored by younger employees on how to use social media. Naturally the mentoring ends up going both ways to the benefit of both parties.
  • Tools and Technologies: We’ve all witnessed the explosion of social media platforms. Yes, it can be daunting, but “the most important thing is not to freak out.” You don’t have to use every new tool at once. But you should be aware of them and find a strategy that makes sense to you.
  • Partnerships and Organizational Structures: This can be a tough one to adopt “since our organizations are our way of life.” But this new environment “creates numerous opportunities for nonprofits to partner with others in new ways.” And remember what Beth Kanter and Allison Fine said about complex social issues: “Complex social problems outpace the capacity of any individual organization.”
  • Strategic Thinking Instead of Strategic Plans: As a sector we’re very much into linear thinking, i.e. Strategic Plans. But those plans go out of date. “Planning actually kills strategy.” Organizations need to be flexible and not locked into a specific plan. They need a set of behaviors (see above bullets) that will help them navigate the future landscape.

So that’s a lot to digest, both the trends and the competencies. But the question now is: what should my organization do?

Next, A Role for Funders.


Five Trends Reshaping the Social Sector: Program Preview

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

In preparation for the program NCG is co-presenting tomorrow (along with our long-time partners the Foundation Center), I’m reading Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector.

Our program tomorrow will feature David La Piana, President of La Piana Consulting, as he presents the aforementioned NonprofitNext research report.

And, like I said I’m trying to prep for the program since I’ll be there (keep an eye out for blog posts and updates on our Twitter account), so I printed the report and started reading.

The report outlines 5 key emerging trends that will have profound implications for how nonprofits will do business in the future. And it’s important to note that “it is their convergence that will transform the sector.” The trends include:

  1. Demographic Shifts Redefine Participation
  2. Technological Advances Abound
  3. Networks Enable Work to be Organized in New Ways
  4. Interest in Civic Engagement and Volunteerism is Rising
  5. Sector Boundaries Are Blurring

Interestingly enough NCG has done many programs over the years that have focused on these various trends, but never on all 5 at once.

At tomorrow’s program David will explain how all these trends converge and moderate a panel of nonprofit leaders who will discuss how their organizations are leveraging these trends.

Panelists including: Dr. Peter Friess, the President of The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose; Matt Halprin who leads Omidyar Network‘s Media, Markets & Transparency initiative; and Dee Dee Nguyen, Senior Philanthropic Advisor at Marin Community Foundation.

I’ll have more on the report once I finish reading it, but I will say I’ve peeked ahead at the “Role for Funders” section, and I like what I saw:

The challenge of the future is not for nonprofits alone. Much of what will be required of nonprofits in the future involves breaking down institutional walls, and seeking and leveraging resources and expertise from a diverse array of partners, both within and outside the sector. In many, cases funders must be willing to depart from traditional funding models in order to enable these kinds of innovation. If not, they will stymie the sector’s attempts to transform itself.”

The quote above reminds me of all the buzz lately around Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book The Networked Nonprofit. When I blogged about it last week I discussed how the networked organization’s model applied to foundations. And I suspect the trends outlined in the Convergence report will also be applicable to foundations.

This seems to be the tune so many are singing lately, that the advances in technology and communications that have permeated our lives need to be able to penetrate our organizations in the same way. Otherwise, our organizations don’t evolve and adapt to the new environment we’re all existing in. And if you don’t know what happens to creatures that can’t adapt, just ask Darwin.


Read the full Convergence report online.

Learn more about tomorrow’s NCG program featuring the Convergence report on NCG’s website.


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