Grant Craft: The Case for Implementation Support

on June 18, 2013
in Blog

Philanthropic practice seems to have evolved a bifurcated focus at the beginning (grant approval) and the end (outcome metrics) of a grant. My question is what about the middle, or grant implementation, where philanthropic support is most likely to help a grant succeed? Is philanthropic intervention during the implementation process just meddling, or an opening to providing more useful support because of increased requirements now imposed at the front and back end of a grant?

Donor focus at the beginning of a grant, on its approval and processing, has evolved over the decades and increased in sophistication along with institutional philanthropy. New financial rules to foster transparency account for some of the additional complications. However, many philanthropic institutions don’t simply fund a grantee’s program anymore. Instead, they create a set of gate keeping parameters which amount to developing their own program criteria grantees must satisfy to be eligible for funding. This is somewhat ironic when the grantor typically only resources the effort, while the grantees are responsible for actually satisfying demand. The latter is assumed to be in a better position to understand what is required on the ground. Nevertheless with over 1.5 million charitable organizations competing for resources in the US alone, its understandable why philanthropies have evolved their giving over the decades into developing sophisticated gate keeping criteria in order not to be overwhelmed. This is not something that will change any time soon even if it’s real effect is creating two different demands that are often not completely aligned — Donor funding criteria and the local demand a nonprofit must satisfy.

The increased focus at the end of the grant and outcome metrics is a relatively new trend over the last decade and a half. It is a result of new donors with technology and venture capital backgrounds infusing their ethos into the field of philanthropy in addition to the general societal trend over the last three decades to commoditize most things from education to health. Of course there were grant evaluations in decades past and every so often a “measurement movement”. However grant evaluations were often pretty loose and often thought of as self-serving, confirming the foundations reasoning for providing a grant in the first place. Technology and the Internet have contributed to our evolution into a networked, “dashboard-friendly” society seeking easy measurements to help us quantify success — quickly. So I think this movement in philanthropy is here to stay as well. The problem of course is that in business, we base outcome metrics on the immediate straightforward business transaction, like buying a house or a car. In philanthropy however, the actual transaction is often secondary to the long term societal benefits being sought, and they often occur long after a grant expires. For example, providing housing for the homeless in order to enable someone to have an address and to find a job; bring up a stable family in a safe environment; have children connected to a school district; etc… The result is that these short term outcome based evaluations serve some purpose in better measuring the success of the immediate philanthropic transactions during the life of the grant (e.g. a homeless person receives a home), but are often no better than the earlier evaluations in measuring long term successes that might happen years later and that the grantor is often not around to evaluate. The majority of grants given have 1-3 year life spans.

Somewhere between the traditional foundation evaluation and these new outcome-based approaches is a happy medium, but we have not found it yet. Part of the reason I think is the failure of many philanthropic institutions to get involved in the grant implementation process. One of the ironies of metric or outcome-based grant making is that it does not provide what its private sector equivalent often does, intervention during execution. Venture capitalists don’t just number crunch and measure the projects they invest in. They incubate them, provide them advice as well as resources, help them network, etc. to assist them in their success during implementation, especially in their early stages. Many foundation grants are also involved in supporting innovative pilot solutions where this help is needed, and drawing upon a foundation’s network of other more mature grantees and its expertise would be useful.

Unfortunately, the traditional approach and ethos in philanthropy has been “hands off” during the implementation process, because donor etiquette suggests that doing so is overly interfering in a grantees work. The result is a rather odd situation of the grantee having to modify its program to satisfy initial philanthropic criteria to get the grant. Once the grant is received, the grantee is often in the position of additionally satisfying donor outcome metrics with limited administrative resources because the grant often caps administrative capacity needed to do a good job at it. The net result is a different kind of interference that materially impacts a grantee’s work. So why not additionally support the grantee with advice, networking, etc. during the implementation process when a donor can actually make a difference in helping a grant stay on track while satisfying all the extra requirements it imposes on its grantees.

I fully appreciate many grantees also look at philanthropic intervention during the implementation process as an intrusion – and it is understandable in the current philanthropic environment. After all, most grantors and grantees understand that the sausage making that goes into translating a donor’s grant criteria into the actual program needs followed by the additional sausage making to translate what’s really happened on the ground into satisfying donor metric requirements is often a process that neither wishes to evaluate too closely. In the traditional relationship between program officer and grantee both parties understand the realities of what must be done to overcome underfunded capacity and criteria that doesn’t necessarily match need. However, this is precisely why intervention during implementation is so important, because often the grantee’s job is made more difficult at the outset trying to satisfy both the donor’s criteria and real demand.

To intervene in the implementation process requires a different relationship between grantor and grantee. One of trust and equality were the donor understands its role as resourcer and its dependence on the grantee as implementer, in the same way the grantee understands the donor’s important role as resourcer. If both the resourcer and implementer work in concert during the implementation process there is a far better chance of a successful grant not only in meeting its early transactional outcomes but its longer term goals as well. After all, how many venture investors pour money into projects based on specific funding requirements they have defined only to disappear — and then reemerge at the end asking if their outcome metrics have been satisfied?

Read More

Relying Primarily on Fund Raising? The Numbers STILL Don’t Add Up

on March 18, 2013
in Blog

Note: This is an update from the original 2010 article as new data has presented itself.

I continue to be astounded by the high number of fundraisers being sought on nonprofit job boards. Many nonprofits still think that fundraising for subsidy support as their main source of income is the appropriate strategy. Once a upon a time there were a few high net worth donors and a few grade “A” organizations in each major issue area (health, education, youth, etc..) to give it to. Organizations could count on long term subsidies that supported their capacity because they were the only kids on the block…

As the statistics clearly show, those days are long gone…

According to the Urban League National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) as of 2013 there are:

* 1,551,705 tax-exempt organizations, including:
– 963,255 public charities
– 97,941 private foundations
– 490,509 other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues

In addition there are 317,751 congregations in the United States. This is relevant because In 2011, according to the National Philanthropic Trust the majority of charitable dollars went first to religion (32%) and then to education (13%), human services (12%), and grant making foundations (9%).

That equals about 1.54 million nonprofits of one sort or another competing for the same diminished pot of total funding. I say diminished because the share of the total giving pie in the US peaked in 2007 at approximately 306+ Billion dollars. Since the recession started in 2007, total giving has been consistently under $300 billion and in 2011 was $298 Billion. Assuming those 317,751 congregations are collecting 32% of $298 billion charitable dollars, that leaves $202.64 billion to be divided among 1.54 organizations or put another way and average of $131,840 per organization. Of course the money is not given equally. The statistics note that education and human services get a larger share of the pie. Moreover, the largest most visible charities will necessarily get more from the general public as will those with established institutional donor relationships. These are interesting statistics to consider when analyzing the annual cost to employ a fundraiser versus the average amount of the total giving pie available to each nonprofit.

While total giving has diminished the number of new nonprofits competing for dollars continues to grow….

According to the Urban Institute’s nonprofit section, the nonprofit sector has been growing steadily in size for more than a decade. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25%; from 1,259,764 million to 1,574,674 million today. The growth rate of the nonprofit sector has surpassed the rate of both the business and government sectors. That means an average of 32,000 new nonprofits were created every year. The annual numbers were higher until the recession, over 40,000 per year, but there has been a decrease of about 30% new nonprofits created partly due to the recession and partly due to an IRS rule change.

Giver Profiles:

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, in 2011, the largest source of charitable giving came from individuals at $217.79 billion, or 73% of total giving; followed by foundations ($41.67 billion/14%), bequests ($24.41 billion/8%), and corporations ($14.55 billion/5%).

Individuals who make up the largest portion of giving, typically give in small amounts. “But wait! You say, what about high net worth Individuals?”. Well, they typically give larger amounts to their specific pet causes, and if you’re lucky enough to be one of them that’s great. Only 50 people were responsible for $7.4 billion dollars of total giving in 2012 According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. BTW that doesn’t count another half billion provided by the Gates’ as part of an earlier 2004 pledge to their foundation. Which brings us to our second largest class of private givers, foundations. Often, really high net worth individuals, companies, etc. set up these institutions to provide funding for the organizations they wish to support; fire walling their donor from their other activities into a neat institutional package the IRS can deal with and that has specific tax treatment rules of its own.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the number of foundations increased dramatically (242%) since 1980, but that increase has slowed significantly, 33.6% since 2000; and 6% since 2005. More importantly, according to the NCCS data most foundations are quiet small.

  • 60,000 of 98,000 active foundations have assets under $1 million
  • Another 30,000 have assets between $1-$10 million
  • Only approximately 3,000 have assets between $10-$25 million
  • Only approximately 2,500 assets above $25 million

These organization also operate on the IRS 5% rule — e.g. they are required to give at least 5% [but not necessarily more], of their total assets out annually. And that’s what most do. According to a Foundation center report. The majority stick to that minimum. Between 2007-2009 over 2/3 of the largest 979 foundations surveyed provided only between 4% and 6.9% of their total assets in any given year, with the vast majority (446) paying out between 5%-5.9%. Of the approximately 98,000 foundations the top 50 alone were responsible for about $14.5 billion of 2010 giving according to a Foundation Center Report — That represents 35% of the total foundation giving pie!

According to NPTrust Donor advised funds [typically pooled funding from higher net worth donors who do not create their own foundations] have become more popular. There were 161,873 donor-advised fund accounts in 2010 holding nearly $30 billion in assets. Annual contributions into donor-advised funds were $7.77 billion in 2010 and Donors recommended grants from donor-advised funds totaling $6.18 billion to charities in 2010. However, the average donor-advised fund account size is also quite small relative to NGO need: only $185,087 in 2010.

Do the Math:

Given the statistical increase in nonprofits and corresponding decrease in overall giving, relying on subsidy funding or grants as an NGO’s primary source of revenue is unsustainable over the long term; which may be why the number of nonprofits is finally decreasing. While there were still new entities applying, 2011 saw an almost 16% decrease in overall nonprofits.

More importantly, its why many nonprofits opt for a different alternative to primary dependence on subsidy support. In 2010, the NCCS reported that:

  • 73% of public charity revenue came from program service revenues, which include government fees and contracts.
  • 22% of public charity revenue came from contributions, gifts and government grants.
  • 5% of public charity revenue came from “other” sources including dues, rental income, special event income, and gains or losses from goods sold.

If an NGO’s revenue model is not similarly balanced, but instead heavily skewed to reliance on subsidy funding, then at best organizational development and growth will be a continuing challenge, at worst the organization may have to shutter its operations or merge with another more financially sound entity. What I always advised my grantees as a foundation program director, funder and consultant was to find a program-related income stream based on their mission that could support as much of their general operating expenses as possible. General operating expenses are typically underfunded by foundation support even in the best of circumstances, and individual member supported organizations are expected to keep these costs down as well. A nonprofit looking at long term strategic sustainability should be trying to cover its own operating costs to the largest extent it can while soliciting subsidy support for its ongoing and new programmatic work.

Finally, given the realities of donor support (which typically funds programs first, operations second) and the increased competition for less funding, most nonprofits should be looking to hire new business strategists rather than relying solely on fund raisers to seek subsidy supports. Nonprofits need more individuals that can effectively create and relate sustainable income streams to program missions. No, I am not advising that the answer is a Fortune 500 business specialist for every nonprofit, but rather someone with experience generating rather than simply soliciting revenue for a nonprofit. There is a genuine argument that both are necessary. However, the statistics skew towards insuring an organization can effectively generate revenue through its mission.


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

25 Tips for Evaluating (And Writing) Successful Technology Grant Proposals Now Available

on March 14, 2013
in Blog

This manual is written for grant evaluators in various issue areas trying to make sense of technology grant proposals they receive as well as non-profit grant writers trying to solicit support for their proposals. the ICT challenges and tips presented cut across issue areas and are valid for both the traditional ICT circumstance as well as the Web 2.0 world of social networking and mobile access. Having spent over a decade evaluating and supporting technical proposals as a Program Director and CIO at a large funder, I wrote this manual to share some tips and tricks I learned evaluating technology proposals and implementing ICT projects globally.

Find it and what others are saying about it, here


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

How to Incentivize Measuring Outcome and Supporting Nonprofit Capacity at the Same Time

on October 14, 2012
in Blog

I’ve been pondering a solution to the problem of incentivizing two behaviors in the nonprofit-donor relationship that each want from the other. Donors need program outcome measurements from nonprofits and nonprofits need capacity support from donors. Unfortunately, current sector dynamics don’t incentivize these behaviors and often do the opposite of de-incentivizing them. The real trick is to find a solution that works within the current system of donor-nonprofit support that is easy to implement and not too disruptive. Otherwise, it could not easily be adopted by the approximately 120,000 donors and the 1.5 million charitable organizations in the US alone.

The Problem

Related to the capacity issue, most donors prefer funding program objectives and have clear limitations as to how much nonprofit overhead capacity they will fund, often in the form of percentage ceilings in their grants. In our current system it’s also not in the donor’s interest to support a nonprofit’s organizational capacity over the many years it may need to develop when that nonprofit may only be a grantee for a couple of years. Thousands of new nonprofits literally sprout up each year to meet similar challenges and as a donor’s program criteria changes so do the nonprofits it supports to facilitate its objectives.

Related to the measurement issue, as the number of donors who’ve made their money from metrics-based endeavors like finance and technology has increased, nonprofits have come under increasing pressure to demonstrate measured outcomes and value for the investment made in them. Nonprofits have also been encouraged to manage themselves more like businesses. This is somewhat ironic because unlike businesses that can invest product and service revenue back into their own operations to grow and in turn better measure their progress, nonprofit mission support and back office operational investment are not so well aligned. That’s because nonprofit donors are first and foremost interested in the nonprofit’s ability to meet their funding criteria, not necessarily supporting the operational capacity that nonprofits rely on them for as well. It’s no wonder then, that many nonprofits see this focus on objective metrics as a donor-driven exercise and an increased and underfunded mandate on them. After all, the ability to measure impact is also related to an organization’s internal capacity to do so. If it relies on multiple donors for support a nonprofit potentially has the added burden of tracking and analyzing multiple and disparate measures based on individual donor need.

The Simple Solution

What if the standard grant was modified so that extra support (above and beyond the agreed upon program and operating budget) came at the end of a grant as long as a nonprofit produced credible outcome metrics that it had agreed upon with the donor? The metrics would not have to be positive in terms of program outcome, just honest, to receive the support. And this extra support would be for a nonprofit’s general operating expenses.

The donor could still decide to limit the extra support to a percentage of the grant. However, if all the donors a nonprofit relied upon provided this bonus support in return for these objective metrics, any percentage limitation would be less of a problem in aggregate. Overall the nonprofit’s capacity support might double if it received its standard operating support in a grant and produced credible metrics to meet the bonus funding requirements of each of its donors as well. This would incentivize the nonprofit to internalize metric reporting in order to increase its capacity support while also providing an incentive for the donor to increase capacity support in order to get the metrics it required – a win-win situation.

The nonprofit with increased capacity support would also be in a better position organizationally to provide these metrics — and much more. Another result of this “bonus” capacity funding support in return for broader nonprofit metric reporting might be a natural reduction in the overall funding pool available because of the extra funds provided. However with about 45K new nonprofits coming online each year and competing for limited resources in an already crowded field of 1.5 million would that be such a bad thing? Fewer nonprofits with the ability to provide accurate metrics would be more highly rewarded with an increase in their capacity support, while those nonprofits that could not provide such measurements would see their support diminish.

The result would be more objective reporting from healthier nonprofit institutions, more satisfied donors and potentially fewer nonprofits that were unable to report on their outcomes. And all this could be accomplished within the framework of current institutional giving practices by better aligning the incentives without significantly modifying the grant giving workflow process.


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

Charity Is Not Perfume

on September 14, 2012
in Blog

I just finished reading the Essay by Dan Palotta in the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Can’t We Sell Charity Like We Sell Perfume?. The gist of the article is clear by the title. While I could argue each one of his specific points, the bottom line is that I think the article fails to recognize the unique dynamics of the three major sectors; private; nonprofit; and public (government) and just as importantly people’s expectations of them.

I think what the author is really asking is “Why doesn’t the nonprofit sector operate/behave more like the private sector?” The answer is that the currency each of these two sectors values is entirely different.

The Nonprofit currency – is the trusted source relationship
The For profit currency – is the bottom line

So when after 9/11, when the Red Cross made a completely logical BUSINESS decision to take some of its 9/11 donations and put them aside for the next crisis — it caused a scandal resulting in the removal of the ED and a reshuffling of its board.
WHY? Because the people donating didn’t value the bottom line business decision but rather THE TRUST they put into the Red Cross to use everything they gave for the 9/11 crisis — even if it wasn’t needed for that crisis.
The nonprofit sector is designed to satisfy the more ethical, spiritual, moral, selfless side of our lives and the trust we have in our fellow people.
The private sector satisfies our more tangible and selfish needs – for creature comforts to make our lives easier, more comfortable and subjectively satisfying.

Given the different objectives of the two sectors, it is reasonable to understand why they’d work differently. That doesn’t mean you can’t adapt certain strategies between sectors, but you have to first appreciate the different dynamics of the two to do this effectively. Otherwise you stumble into the Red Cross conundrum.

The author could have written another article asking why the government doesn’t operate as a business. The answer would be that the government’s responsibility is to protect/fulfill the needs of ALL ITS CITIZENS while a business is committed to meeting the far narrower desires of its consumers and bottom line requirements of its investors. In a perfect world the private sector and government should work complimentarily and not exactly like each other (just as the private and nonprofit sector do) – one is the engine of the economy and the other regulates and protects all our interests so the engine doesn’t overheat and explode in our collective faces.


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

Closing the “Division in Vision” Divide: Reorienting the Philanthropic and Nonprofit Relationship

on June 16, 2010
in Blog

The recently released Disrupting Philanthropy Report explores the implications of networked technologies for philanthropy and provides excellent examples of the changing landscape. However, its most compelling observations may be that the best examples focus on reorienting the relationship between philanthropies and grantees and how they share information and collaborate. While much has been written about the need for nonprofits and philanthropies to change, it often focuses on one or the other as a distinct actor. This overlooks the symbiotic relationship that exists between them unique to the nonprofit sector.

In the traditional philanthropic relationship foundations act as resourcers and NGO’s as implementers. The two are dependent on each other to get the job done. Contrast this with a private or public center entity which resources and implements its own projects from its own revenue sources. The problem in the modern philanthropic resourcer-implementer relationship is that both have slightly different mission objectives — The NGO based on constituent demand and the foundation based on grant criteria which may or may not reflect local demand and is designed to filter the cornucopia of potential grantees. Consider the outcome when an architect (the grantor) and a builder/contractor (the nonprofit) both have a slightly different vision of the end product they support and neither can complete it without the other. A tangible example of this metaphor exists: The Twin Towers collapsed in New York almost a decade ago, and a gaping hole has existed in the ground for much of the decade since. Similarly, many of the problems funders and nonprofits tackle have existed for decades and grown even more complex.

What has caused this “division in vision” and how does it affect the way philanthropy operates?

At the start of the modern philanthropic movement a century ago institutional donors supported a handful of nonprofits addressing major social issues. Identifying “the right” nonprofit handling it best was easier, and philanthropic gate keeping criteria reflected this. The focus was on vetting institutions and supporting their missions. With fewer nonprofits meeting the need, selected charities could also rely on long term funding to support their operations. Fast forward a century with almost one million registered nonprofits, another half million identified charities and about 45,000 new nonprofits starting each year, according to the Urban Institute. Foundation gate keeping has gotten far more sophisticated, and in the process has changed the nature of the foundation-nonprofit relationship. Traditional philanthropy is still based on resourcing the right institutions to meet a mission objective. The difference is that identifying these institutions has become a full time job.

Many philanthropies now create their own complex set of program criteria to insure that a finite amount of resources are directed at deserving institutions. Criteria are sometimes determined by a funder before real demand in the field is even assessed. The result is that grantees are expected to meet the philanthropic institution’s mission objectives before receiving support rather than demonstrating why their mission goals warrant support as the main determinant.

The successful modern grant proposal is often a study in effectively subordinating the nonprofit’s mission objectives, and instead making the case for why its activities perfectly match the mission of whatever philanthropic institution it is requesting support from. The practical effect of meeting foundation missions first is that the nonprofit acts more like a subcontractor to the philanthropic grant giver than a gift recipient meeting its own needs. Moreover, funder initiatives often last only a few years before changing, and with so many grantees, few can expect long term support.

Unfortunately, the philanthropic relationship is still perceived by both sides to operate as it historically has. Much philanthropy still consider the grants they give with strings attached as outright gifts to support nonprofit missions rather than appreciating they are designed to meet their own mission criteria first. Many nonprofits also act as if the grants they receive are outright gifts. They eschew grantor requests for metrics as overly burdensome and wonder why these supposed gifts don’t support their real needs, which include administrative costs to allow for healthy operation and institutional growth. This gap between perception and reality causes much of the dysfunction in the relationship as the two missions compete for dominance. The unacknowledged subcontractor relationship has continued for many years because of what a funder colleague dubbed “the Dance of Deceit”. Here are its steps:

Differences in mission are purposefully underplayed when the nonprofit applies to meet the funder’s criteria and win a grant. Once the grant is won, the nonprofit applies the funds to meet its mission goals and constituent demand. When reporting back, it then retranslates actual use of the funds into satisfying the funder’s criteria. This process is an open secret and has allowed the subcontractor relationship to tacitly operate because philanthropies are typically less focused on how the nonprofit implements its grant and more on the processing required to initially win the grant. Grant selection is a full time bureaucratic process in many philanthropic institutions. A combination of grantees reporting back what grantors wish to hear and often self-serving grant evaluation processes allow grantors to declare mission success. However, the system has started to show strains over the last decade because the chorus to really demonstrate donor and nonprofit accountability and grant impact has grown, exposing the reality of the relationship and its limitations in trying to satisfy two institutional missions.

To address the problem systemically and pull philanthropy into the 21st century the issues cannot be addressed from either the funder or nonprofit side exclusively, but rather by changing the nature of the collaborative relationship between them. The best examples in the Disrupting Philanthropy report speak to addressing philanthropic issues through information sharing, collaboration, smarter investment and metrics that better measure outcome and impact… None of these are new, but they all speak to addressing the issues by focusing on constructive, open, and honest nontraditional relationships between philanthropic institutions and nonprofits. The new ingredient in all this is a highly networked world with technology that promotes collaboration and the ability to create solutions to address this relationship in new and effective ways.


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

Technology Turnabout – The Nonprofit Haves and Philanthropic Have Nots

on February 1, 2010
in Blog

A funny thing happened on the way to implementing 21st century technology in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits pulled well ahead of their philanthropic underwriters in the innovative use of technology to support their missions. In April 2010, the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) will be hosting another of its ever expanding, content -rich conferences on nonprofit’s use of technology. The event is typically under-attended by foundation folks, although the original intent of the founders was that NTEN would spur technology innovation for philanthropies as well. By all accounts, the NTEN conference is a dynamic, inspiring and educational annual event. In sharp contrast, I was part of an effort some years ago by a variety of philanthropic personnel using technology in their respective program areas to spur more innovation in that space. The group was called the Innovation Funders Network (IFN). Having failed to get philanthropies on the NTEN bandwagon, the thinking was that more insular foundations needed a sandbox of their own in order to share ideas and develop technology innovation. IFN lasted only about three to four years (and two conferences) before disbanding for lack of interest and financial resources.

In fairness to the philanthropic sector, there is an extremely competent TAG group affiliated with the Council on Foundations whose membership primarily includes the administrative IT staff of medium and large foundations. The Council on Foundations undertook an effort last year to identify the priority issues facing philanthropy in the 21st century on a broader programmatic scope — an effort I was also a part of as a consultant. A paper was produced and is now being actively promoted to its membership, and more broadly to make philanthropies aware of the priority issues. What will come of the effort implementation-wise is a work in progress. However, it’s telling that the number one identified priority was the simple application of standard data fields and taxonomies to the grant application and reporting process. It’s a process similar to most foundations requesting input from grantees, but made highly unique and over-complicated because philanthropies in aggregate still spend millions if not tens of millions of dollars to develop their own unique grant tracking systems and processes.

Despite the downturn, many philanthropic institutions still have the money to spend on technology, and many are using it to benefit their back office processing. Too much money is not always a good thing however, when it spurs development of unique, traditional, one off solutions. There are a number of additional reasons to explain the dichotomy of resource-poor nonprofits making the most of cutting edge technologies to effectively support their program missions while philanthropies lag in this area:

• Ironically, an issue that has always been a challenge to nonprofits – high turnover and low salaries — is now an advantage in the area of technological innovation. Young people at the start of their careers continue to populate the nonprofit workspace. The difference now is that they were weaned on social networking technologies and ubiquitous, affordable consumer devices and it is a part of their communication DNA. By comparison, philanthropic staff tend to be one to three generations older and not as familiar/comfortable with the new technologies or their application.

• Behaviorally, the new technologies work for the nonprofit and against the traditional philanthropic organizational culture. It’s the nature of nonprofits to reach out, engage and network with their constituents and the current set of online technology tools are specifically designed for this purpose. By contrast, traditional philanthropy creates a firewall between itself and its grantee, limiting outreach and social networking with constituents.

• The affordability of current technology cannot be overemphasized. The historic barrier to nonprofit access of these tools was financial, both in terms of the tools and the trained personnel to use them. There now exists a ubiquity of useful web applications, from surveys to online solicitations — including specialty applications for nonprofits like advocacy and human rights. Nonprofits and philanthropies both like to think of themselves as unique, but the former has been far more inclined to use standardized affordable technology than its philanthropic counterparts who still have the resources and inclination to build unique solutions.

It is both inspiring and a healthy evolution of the sector that nonprofits now have the access, impetus and personnel to apply the new technology tools. What is distressing is that their philanthropic counterparts still lag behind in their understanding and use of these same tools. Philanthropy in the 21st century is being reshaped by online networked technologies and new types of philanthropic initiatives. witness the Iranian post-election crisis and Haiti relief. It’s incumbent for traditional philanthropy to get ahead of the technology curve if it doesn’t want to become a historic artifact of the 20th century.

For a list of nonprofit actors spurring technology use among nonprofits see:
eRiders.net – Mission Driven Technology Support for Non Governmental Organizations.
Idealware.org – For the latest review of said tools.
Netsquared.org challenges website sponsored by Techsoup featuring the latest cutting edge applications for the social sector and other similar challenges.
NTEN.org – Nonprofit Technology Conference and website.
Socialsourcecommon.org – A social network of nonprofit software tool users sharing their favorites.
TechSoup.org – The largest International distributor of software to the nonprofit sector.


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

Social Networking Across Generations and its impact on the NGO Sector’s Work

on June 19, 2009
in Blog

Once again the importance of social networking has been underscored by what’s happening in Iran with its predominately youthful population. In crisis mode, turning to these tools seems far more democratic across generational lines than it does under normal circumstances. I’ve been grappling with this issue as I hear from fellow [middle] aged peers about their personal use of social networking tools. Even technologists of my generation using these Web 2.0 tools often make limited or extremely focused use of them to meet specific objectives. They are typically not using them as a principal means of interacting with their peers in the same way their twenty-something colleagues do.

One can make the argument that individual generations are defined by their emerging technologies — the ones that separate them from their fuddy-duddy parents. However, while Web 2.0 may define the millennial generation, different generations inevitably use the same tools differently based on formative experiences with technologies of their own generation.

The millennial generation has defined its social interactions around interactive Web 2.0 technologies like Twitter and Facebook – and they also accomplish specific objectives with these tools like electing progressive leaders of the free world and contesting elections in repressive regimes. By contrast, my generation, who currently occupy strategic management positions in many nonprofits and philanthropies, were raised on broadcast technologies like MTV that informed our socialization. We read newspapers and watched content on at pre-existing times on TV, (not 24/7 on mobile devices). We were amazed at how transformative e-mail was and it remains our core technology. Privacy seems a useful if not quaint notion to this generation as long it doesn’t interfere with their online social interactions. By contrast, my generation winces in horror at sharing personal information online. Do one billion Internet users and potential employers really need to see images of us being stupid at a Christmas party, we ask?

So it’s not surprising that my generation often perceives the utility, but not the necessity of incorporating these Web 2.0 tools as indispensable components of our core social interactions. Why should we? We actually grew up without them and by some miracle maintained close ties with friends and family – all without a single tweet!

Personally I “tweet”, but not because I want anyone knowing what I am doing 24/7 (god forbid). Nor do I want to know the whereabouts of a few hundred of my closest friends. I tweet a message a day on news topics of relevance to strengthen my ability to present complex arguments or concepts in 140 characters or less – to really interact electronically I use e-mail and occasionally instant messaging. Sometimes I even use a phone — with real wires attached.

What does this say about older technologists and nonprofit managers, new technologies, and the future of their successful deployment in foundations and non-profits? We’re all cognizant of the mad dash to apply these tools to every form of philanthropic and nonprofit endeavor. To stay pertinent, CNN has become a continuous advertisement and guilt trip for the use of social networking tools, (their unspoken motto: “We tweet therefore we are… relevant”). In the process they have unfortunately conflated staying perpetually informed and socially networked as one in the same concept. If you are not following this or that anchor on Twitter, you must be a flawed or damaged human being. Most “older folks” over thirty-five or forty, have real issues with this. I readily acknowledge some in the over thirty-five crowd completely hip to social networking who live and die by this or that tool. For the rest, I say “Relax, you’re not completely out of it, you’re not flawed in some way and most importantly, you’re not alone. You are simply part of a different generation…. Accept it.”

With acceptance comes healing… While you may not use the technology the same way, or appreciate why sending virtual seeds and cookies through Facebook is at all relevant to your existence; it is still incumbent on you to appreciate how these tools are used effectively. Listen to those young whippersnappers and then apply your wisdom of experience to adapt it to the strategies and objectives of your organization. Defer to younger colleagues with really interesting and intuitive suggestions for applying social networking in ways you would never even consider… You don’t have all the answers because you didn’t grow up with these tools. Don’t be intimidated by someone half your age who knows better about using and applying these tools to their generation than you do. If you learned a second language in your 40’s and came across a twenty-something that speaking same far more fluently and without accent, would you be surprised? Same difference. You don’t have to use or understand the tools in the same way as younger colleagues. You do have to be open to their adoption and new ways of operating with them, utilizing the talent and experience of those younger colleagues.

Ironically, nonprofit’s are in a far better position than philanthropies. For once the rapid turnover and often younger staff who populate them come to the job with social networking in their DNA. Philanthropic turnover is far lower and decision-makers are often 2-3 generations removed from the latest technologies. It is incumbent on these decision makers to listen to younger tech-savvy staff and nonprofits they fund for guidance. The relationship is symbiotic; nonprofits need philanthropic support for these initiatives. Philanthropies with questions that lack in-house expertise can turn to a variety of excellent third party non-profit technology support providers including Npower.org, Techsoup.org, Aspirationtech.org to name a few.

Finally, to my aging peers, take heart… Those twenty-somethings will be forty and fifty-somethings soon enough and they will deal with the same issues of a newer generation’s technologies. I’m hoping to retire before tech-implants become the rage…


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

20 Tips Every Strategic Grant Seeker Should Know Now Available

on November 12, 2008
in Blog

This manual is written for every grant seeker wanting to do a better job of translating their passion into successful grants or who have walked away from donor interactions wondering what they were thinking. It explores the key issues from a grant maker’s perspective, providing grant seekers insight into the dynamics of the donor decision making process and the reasoning behind it. Most importantly, it lays out strategies to leverage these dynamics.

Find it and what others are saying about it here


Jonathan Peizer is the Principal of Internaut Consulting supporting foundations, nonprofits, governments and socially responsible private sector initiatives. He is the former CIO/CTO and Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Internet Program.

Read More

New Online Nonprofit Capacity Resource: Capaciteria.org Now Available

on November 15, 2006
in Blog

Capaciteria is a FREE service designed to help nonprofits find the best resources to build their institutional capacity. Nonprofit capacity support is a critical issue, and like all mission-based issues nonprofits deal with, resolving the problem has two major components. One involves tangible resourcing. The other involves useful information to help nonprofits make better decisions just as they assist their own constituencies. Capaciteria addresses the information component of the nonprofit capacity support issue by providing useful resources.

Significant effort has been made in collecting the resources that are often most desirable and sought after: nonprofit jobs, donation and in-kind resources, philanthropy resources, advocacy resources, and volunteer resources in addition to the categories like financial management and accounting, evaluation, telecommunications, human resources and a variety of other categories of resources that were added.

You can find this resource here

Read More
Page 1 of 212