It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It

This book, by Caroline Fiennes, was given to me by someone in the philanthopy game whom I very much respect right when I was starting to take the idea of philanthropic strategy seriously. It has never been out of reach since. In my previous post, I worry that I may have come across as somewhat dismissive of Logical Framework Analysis (LFA). As a tool, I think that LFA is almost indispensable. The process of subjecting ideas to such analytical rigor is rarely itself a bad idea. It is just impractical for most people who do other things than philanthropy for a living. What Caroline Fiennes manages to do in this book is give you a primer on LFA that will actually inspire you to put some of these ideas into practice immediately. It’s well-written, conversational and useful. Not a bad set of adjectives.

It’s not free, so before committing to the purchase  you might consider this nice review in the Guardian by Michael Green (himself a very interesting cat) and this interview with the author by the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.

(Don’t) Blame Canada

My Canadian friends insist this is not true, but I am convinced that Canadians are by nature just a little bit better than us. After all, they gave us the great Bruce Cockburn. And Loverboy. Another case in point is Outcome Mapping (OM).

The Bible of OM was authored by Sarah Earl, Fred Carden, and Terry Smutyl in 2001. OM itself was developed by Canada’s International Research and Development Centre (IRDC) to address perceived shortcomings of Logical Framework Analysis (LFA). As you will discover, the Program Monitoring and Evaluation community (PM&E, of course) has never met an acronym with which it has not fallen in love.

If you have dealt with a big foundation, especially one that has a hand in international human development, then you have undoubtedly encountered LFA-speak and its obsession with the “ballistic” term impact. People who obsess themselves with impact assessment are fundamentally skeptics. They wish the social world was more like the world of the natural sciences, a world in which we think we can know things for certain. They lament that we rarely have discrete, measurable, predictable and straightforward relationships between the programs we support through our philanthropy and the world we wish were true. OM starts from a different place, where the fact that human beings are not machines is to be celebrated. OM sees development as characterised by long-term, open problems, and accepts that ‘social change’ is really shorthand for many changes in many actors over a long period of time. Acknowledging that there are limits to a program’s influence, OM encourages a focus on the contributions that the actors and organizations with which you work directly can reasonably make not only in the communities they serve but also in the ways in which they go about their work.

For most, fully implementing an OM program is too expensive and probably overkill. But, the principles on which OM is built are worth appreciating and engaging with. The good folks at the Outcome Mapping Learning Community (OMLC), a registered not-for-profit organization in Belgium, have made a trove of resources available to us. This is a rabbit hole down which you will be rewarded for diving.

“Building is not Buying”

George Overholser is another “alpha dog” thought leader in the world of philanthropy. He is a founder of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, co-founder of Third Sector Capital Partners, and is generally a superior example of the human species. I was fortunate enough to have caught a presentation of his back in 2009, and my ideas about philanthropy have never been the same since. Basically, George challenges us to distinguish  “equity-like” and “revenue-like” investments in the social sector. His report Nonprofit Growth Capital is seminal and absolutely required reading.