Creating a strategic platform to move philanthropy forward

September 18, 2013 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

grimm_42090_largesteppedpyramid_2_webI love the concept of synchronicity. The word and concept, coined by Carl Jung in the 1920s, defines that meaningful coincidence we all seem to stumble upon from time to time. And when what I’m reading, listening to and thinking about land on a single idea that becomes super glue for all my random thoughts, it’s pretty wonderful.

And that just happened.

Here are the disparate parts: First, I’ve just finished reading a short but compelling article, “How to Measure Wonder” by Hoon Yee Lee Krahauer, which speaks to a struggle many of us face. That is, how to make data truly work as a visceral part of the organization. The author contends that a question we all should be asking is, “How can we measure the intangibles that move the needle from good to great ____?” (Culture, organization, program, event, etc., you fill in the blank.)

This idea of measuring the intangible was further validated as important by Jim Collins in “Great by Choice,” an audiobook I’ve enjoyed listening to, followed by a blog I came across by data diva Beth Kanter. She writes:

Measurement is a tool that data-informed cultures use to improve their programs; they observe the results of their programs, and then learn from those results to improve and refine their next programs. Data-informed cultures design measurement into their projects—not just so that they have measureable outcomes, but so they provide the data necessary to improve them.

“Data-informed” was a new word for me. It’s a term introduced by Eric Peterson that reminds us also to be cautious of the data-driven model. He contends that we know we need data and we need to measure those things we can, but…

Data is a double-edged sword. When properly used, it can lead to sound and well-informed decisions. When improperly used, the same data can lead not only to poor decisions but to poor decisions made with high confidence that, in turn, could lead to actions that could be erroneous and expensive. (Underline mine)

The link between all of these ideas began to gel further for me as the concept of a strategic platform was rattling around in my head following a regional association conference where I met the vast and varied other regional leaders. (Although we serve different geographic areas structure and our cultures may be different, our missions are remarkably similar.) At this conference in Milwaukee, I heard Bruce Boyd, of Arabella Advisors, talk about his views regarding regional associations. He said that for years we’ve provided a community where philanthropy professionals could come together to learn and share. This is an important role, he contended, because we are serving as forums for shared learning and building networks for our members. But then he addressed the future. If we want to play a pivotal role, Boyd said, and we want to address the myriad of social problems our communities face—and do that in a meaningful and important way (a great way)—then we need to frame our strategic platform as action-oriented and measurement-driven, and engage and convene a broader range of participants.

In an article Boyd states, “Regional Associations have the credibility and networks to convene these players and to help drive strategic and collective action. In many ways, they are uniquely placed to do so, having already served their communities and operated as conveners. Yet actually engineering this change in approach will require courage and creativity.”

Finally, the last concept that helped create my synchronistic moment was a 2011 report from the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy’s executive director, Aaron Dorfman. This cross-referenced report reviewed more than 1,100 foundations and discovered that those that identified as being a member of a regional association were:

– twice as likely to be exemplary in funding underserved communities…
– four times more likely to be exemplary in advancing social justice…
– ten times more likely to be exemplary in providing multi-year support…

…than a grantmaker that is not identified as a member of a regional association.

So (drum role for my moment of synchronicity) the strategic positioning we at Philanthropy Ohio have been engaged in this year—including our research regarding our members and our services, our determination to measure what we do to better manage our future, and our diligence in striving to be not only relevant, but the leading voice and resource for philanthropy in our state—is all about creating, defining and engaging in a strategic platform that creates real impact and leads change going forward.

Stayed tuned!

Entry filed under: Commentaries, Philanthropy Ohio News. Tags: .

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