The recent U.S. election reminded us on a daily basis of allthe serious problems we face as a nation. Political campaigns made the solutions sound simple, as if one person or one policy could put people back to work, improve our educational system, deliver better health care, clean up the environment, or prevent war. It’s just not that simple. As Baldoni writes in his Forbes blog post, “Post-Election: Now What?”:
Now is the time to put the interests of the whole society first. That will require a commitment – indeed a partnership – of community, business, nonprofit and yes government.
Philanthropic foundations, although not specifically called out in Baldoni’s post, are also part of the solution mix. Steve McCormick, President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, writes that private foundations should be “game-changers”; they should be “…creating solutions to our most critical social problems.” He writes that philanthropists must do some things differently. One of these is measurement. He admonishes philanthropists to:
Use meaningful measures. It’s difficult to chart progress in the not-for-profit sector. Measurement requires creativity, coupled with discipline, to establish the right indicators—qualitative as well as quantitative. But, as the saying goes: “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.”
Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in launching MarketsForGood.org (see below), said that foundations should be continually learning from doing. Conversations about learning do not happen as much as they should in foundations and their grantee organizations. They should be sharing information. Raikes says that the answers exist but it’s too hard to find and apply the information. Bigger, faster impact requires finding ways to get better data to social investors and nonprofits that are doing the work on the ground. He said, “Our work relies on the free flow of quality, accessible data and information…that lead to greater impact and a better world.”
I agree with McCormick that private foundations can be “game-changers” and that creative, disciplined measures will help make that happen. And I agree with Raikes that much of the data and information already exists to increase impact on society’s most serious problems; that it is more a problem of access to information than it is one of collecting the data.
However, beyond applying measures and accessing data is the challenge of actually using the information to bring about change. This is where many foundations and nonprofits get stuck. They have the information in reports on their shelves or in computer files, but that’s where it stays. That information needs to be liberated, discussed, and translated into action. If they are going to be change-makers, they need to get their organizations engaged in conversations about the implications of the information, plan the action that must be taken to implement what has been learned, and hold themselves accountable for making change.