Dr. Changelove - Nonprofits and Change Management

This is just too cool not to share. 

Last week was NTC, the nonprofit technology conference, hosted by NTEN.  It's a gathering of 1,750 nonprofit technology professionals and accidental techies for three days of learning, sharing, and a good deal of general geekiness.

I had the pleasure of presenting with Marc Baizman of My Computer Guy Nonprofit Technology Consulting and Rose de Fremery of American Jewish World Service, two awesome co-presenters.  Our session, on the first morning of the conference, was entitled, "Dr. Changelove, or: How My Org Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Technology."

We talked about change management for successful technology iniatives: how to frame your project in the context of your organizational dynamics and your position in the organization, how some technology initiatives are instigated by the people leading them, and others are dictated by senior management, and how to handle each type of initiative.

But rather than telling you more about the session, I can show you, thanks to Rob Cottingham of Noise to Signal.  Rob live-blogged NTC in the form of cartoons, and Marc, Rose and I were lucky enough to have Rob attend our session.

So here is Dr. Changelove, in cartoon form:

Noise to Signal Cartoon
Author: Dahna Goldstein
April 11, 2012, 09:45 AM

Nine B Corporations Named Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs

In its third annual recognition of America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs, BusinessWeek has named nine B Corporations as among the top 25 social entrepreneurs in the country.  I think this is meaningful for two reasons:

  • BusinessWeek, a traditional business publication, is actively tracking and evaluating social entrepreneurs.  This suggests the increasing recognition of the importance of social entrepreneurship and the notion that “business as usual” is evolving to include social and environmental bottom lines, in addition to a financial bottom line;
  • For each of the years that BusinessWeek has chosen its 25 top social entrepreneurs, B Corporations have been a significant component, representing 31% of all of the companies selected by BusinessWeek (including PhilanTech in 2009).  I’ve written previously about why I think B Corporations are important for the nonprofit sector, and I think they’re important to the business community in general.  The representation of B Corps in this list speaks to the emergence of the B Corp certification as a standard among entrepreneurial companies that are leading the business community in social and environmental responsibility. 

B Corporation Logo

Here are the B Corporations that have been named to the BusinessWeek Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs list:


  • Azavea - Azavea provides GIS and Mapping Software Development and Geospatial Analysis Services.
  • Change.org - Change.org is the leading site for social change, providing daily news and information about important social issues and empowering people to take action.
  • Dimagi - Dimagi is an award-winning, socially-conscious technology company that helps organizations deliver quality health care to urban and rural communities across the world.
  • Emory Knoll Farms - Emory Knoll Farms' nursery is the only one in the U.S. entirely devoted to growing plants used in the green roof industry.
  • Freelancers Insurance Company - Freelancers Insurance Company provides health insurance to independent workers. They're owned by the Freelancers Union, whose members are their only customers.
  • Greyston Bakery - The Greyston Bakery is a for-profit enterprise owned by the non-profit Greyston Foundation that has been producing the finest brownies, cakes and tarts for 25 years.
  • Nest Collective - A company of consumer products brands focused on nourishing babies, toddlers and kids with healthy, organic foods.
  • Re:Vision Architecture - Re:Vision Architecture (RVA) is an architecture, planning, and consulting firm specializing in sustainable design and development.
  • World Centric - World Centric provides high quality compostable food service disposables and food packaging products for use in schools, corporate cafeterias, restaurants, hospitals, parties etc.


  • Eleek - Eleek is a sustainable design and manufacturing business specializing in high-style lighting and other decorative building parts. They also offer custom design and manufacturing, as well as lighting restoration and retrofitting services.
  • Napo Phramaceuticals - CAP Global, a wholly owned subsidiary of Napo Pharmaceuticals, develops and commercializes novel, branded pharmaceuticals to global populations through the establishment of local partnerships.
  • DripTech - Driptech Inc. designs and manufactures low cost, drip irrigation for small farmers in developing countries.
  • Mobis (Bikestation) - Bikestation plans, designs, builds, and operates bike-transit centers and other multi-modal facilities.
  • The Redwoods Group - The Redwoods Group, a privately held socially conscious company, is a commercial specialty insurance provider.
  • Source 44 - Source 44 provides data services to help companies evaluate and monitor their environment impact.
  • Sustainable Harvest - Sustainable Harvest is one of the highest volume importers of organic and fair-trade coffee in North America.


  • Better World Books - Better World Books is an online book retailer and social enterprise.
  • CleanFish - CleanFish specializes in providing top quality seafood that is delicious, safe & sustainable - fish you can trust™.
  • Fair Trade Sports - Fair Trade Sports, Inc sells Fair Trade, FSC Certified sports balls for soccer, football, basketball, rugby, volleyball, and more.
  • IceStone - IceStone LLC manufactures high-design durable surfaces from 100% recycled glass and cement that are used in kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities and flooring.
  • Impact Makers - Impact Makers delivers IT and management consulting professional services, focused on the healthcare industry.
  • PhilanTech - PhilanTech provides online grants management systems that enhance accountability, transparency, and efficiency in the social sector.
  • SVT Group - SVT Group is a strategic impact advisory firm that helps investors and organizations manage impact.

Congratulations to the B Corporations – and the other social entrepreneurs – selected by BusinessWeek this year!

Author: Dahna Goldstein
June 27, 2011, 10:56 AM

The Recession and Transforming the Nonprofit Sector

I just attended a webinar hosted by the Nonprofit Quarterly that featured Dr. Paul Light, NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service, about emerging trends in the nonprofit sector.

Dr. Light is well known in the sector for, among other things, his gloomy 2008 prediction that up to 100,000 nonprofits would close as a result of the economic downturn.  While the number of nonprofits that have gone under in the intervening years is difficult to quantify (nonprofits do not necessarily report to the IRS when they close their doors), Dr. Light indicated that numerous sources have cited closures and mergers in the nonprofit sector.  In addition, the IRS is likely to revoke 501(c)(3) status from between 50,000 and 100,000 nonprofits as a result of their failure to file required reports with the IRS.  At the same time, though, the IRS approved 60,000 new exempt organizations last year.

In his 2008 article entitled, "Four Futures," Dr. Light explored four possible paths the nonprofit sector might take as a result of the economic downturn:

  1. The rescue fantasy (an idealistic scenario where the nonprofit sector is "saved" by the kindness of strangers and giving remains at high levels)
  2. A withering winterland (in which every nonprofit feels the financial and resource pain of an economic downturn)
  3. An arbitrary winnowing (in which those organizations that have the most resources continue to have the most resources, and others falter, purely based on size, scale, marketing, etc., rather than the quality of services provided)
  4. Transformation (in which the sector sees the economic downturn as an opportunity to reinvent itself)

While the rescue fantasy clearly hasn't occurred (though Dr. Light noted that for a limited number of organizations, the economic stimulus package provided a version of this fantasy), it seems a combination of the other three have – and will likely continue.

The silver lining to an otherwise sobering scenario is that the nonprofit sector continues to have an opportunity to transform itself.  Dr. Light specifically mentioned alliances and advocacy as areas where we can take more control of our own fate than we have been: the nonprofit sector, when speaking with a unified voice, is a powerful institution.  We need to mobilize that voice to urge legislators at both federal and state levels not to continue cutting nonprofits' funding and delaying payments.  We need to challenge the prevailing wisdom that appears rampant among legislators that nonprofits will always be around, regardless of how aggressively their budgets are impacted by legislation and the economy.

nonprofit sector transformation

The notion of challenging prevailing wisdom really struck me.  The nonprofit sector still has a ways to go in emerging from the financial crisis in which we’ve found ourselves for the last several years, and I think there are several prevailing wisdoms within our own sector and modus operandi that we need to challenge.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post – Challenging Four Prevailing Wisdoms.


Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/_brilho-de-conta/400937249/

Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 23, 2011, 04:06 PM

Let's Talk About Tech, Baby

Note: this post originally appeared on NTEN's blog on Jan 12, 2011, co-authored with the lovely and talented Marc Baizman, Owner, My Computer Guy Nonprofit Technology Consulting, and Simone Parrish, Knowledge Manager, Innovation Network.

dahna goldsteinmarc baizmansimone parrish


"Let's talk about tech, baby
Let's talk about you and me
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let's talk about tech"

While Salt-N-Pepa had something different in mind when they wrote those lyrics (well, almost those lyrics) in 1990, they captured the essence of how to talk about technology in nonprofit organizations. A close read of the lyrics provides a good framework for thinking about communicating horizontally (across departments or silos) and vertically (with everyone from senior management to interns) in your organization about technology.

No, really.

Let's break it down.

Let's Talk about Tech, Baby

As simple as it may seem, making the commitment to talk about technology in your organization is a good start. In many organizations, technology is viewed as separate from the work the organization is doing. Technology is the unintuitive phone system, the frustrating donor management system, the computer that blue screens every time it has more than three windows open. In that scenario, nonprofit workers feel like technology is something they have to deal with to do the "real work," not something that can make their work lives and their organization better at meeting its mission (which is what NTEN believes, so strongly they wrote a book about it).

Our challenge is to elevate discussion about technology from the tactical (ensuring that the computers turn on, that the organization chooses the right content management system for its website) to the strategic (what is our social media strategy, how can we use technology to give our field workers immediate access to case information) so that technology can help make the organization more effective at combating poverty, saving wildlife, or whatever the organization's mission is.

The first step is to understand how your organization is structured, and how it views technology. From there, you can start to understand where to begin conversations. Start talking to folks who "get" technology--there are probably many of them who don't work in the IT department. Ask them what challenges they currently face in their jobs and talk about ways that strategically-implemented technology could help them.

Is your ED a technophobe? What about other senior management? How about your board members? Start thinking about success stories that you can share with your organization. Share how an organization similar to yours was able to strategically use technology to increase its impact. Ask on listservs (ProgEx, NTEN Affinity Groups, ISF Yahoo group, etc.) to get success stories.

Technology needs a seat at the table when your organization is doing its strategic planning. Technology can't be something that's added into the process once the plan is set; it needs to be an integral part of the process from the beginning. Start planting the seed now for including someone in those conversations who can bring a strategic technology perspective, whether it's you or one of your colleagues.

Let's Talk about You (and Me)

If this blog post were all about us (the authors), you would have stopped reading by now -- and rightly so. But that's the meta-message here: You can get your message across better if you keep the focus on your audience. That is, "Let's talk about You (and me)" -- mostly you, and a little bit me.

This approach works especially well for talking about technology issues. Many non-tech people (i.e., people who aren't responsible for the technical decisions in your organization; all humans are tech people) will only tolerate a technical discussion if they can see immediately how it helps them. Listen to what they need. What work issues annoy them most? Are there technical solutions to those issues, or can technology help address particular inefficiencies? Just remember that no amount of technology can fix a broken process.

Another important aspect of the "let's talk about you" is that your tech conversation will go a lot better if it's in terms your audience will understand. This is not the time for jargon -- save that for talking to your developers (or your NTEN listserv buds). We live inside the tech jargon bubble, so it's easy to forget that not everyone does. Using metaphors that relate to real life can be a big help.

If you burst into your Executive Director's office to tell her that "RHEL 3.0 is going end-of-life!", you're not going to get very far. She is just going to be alarmed, confused, and annoyed that you're wasting her time, because to her, you sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. On the other hand, explaining to her that, "The computer that runs our website has some really old software on it; we need to fix it. It's like coming home and finding the basement is starting to flood" -- now that, she'll understand. "Stopping the website basement from flooding" makes more sense to her than "RHEL 3 is going end-of-life, or even "Our webhosts are going to stop supporting the server's operating system". (Wa wa, wa wa wa wa.)

Let's Talk about All the Good Things And the Bad Things that May Be

It's worth your while to try to see things from the non-tech-person's perspective, and to make sure you understand what benefits they will see from a technology investment. They will be much more likely to listen to you if they can see the concrete benefits to their own work, in terms like "save me time" and "make these five tasks easier" and "get me out of doing pointless double data entry."

Another great approach is to go straight to mission: How is this tech solution going to get your organization closer to meeting its mission? For example, Simone works for an evaluation organization. Their mission is to provide knowledge and expertise to help nonprofits and funders learn from their work to improve their results. Over the past couple of years, they have been dabbling, and then wading, in data visualization techniques. Making the case for this -- for the professional development time and for the cost of various tools -- has been easy, because it goes straight to their mission. The case goes like this: We want to provide knowledge and expertise. Many people in their audience will absorb knowledge better from informative (and shiny!) graphics than from exhaustive (and exhausting) narratives or spreadsheets. Therefore, it's worth their while as an organization to devote time to learning how to present data visually.

It's also important to talk about the bad things, and acknowledging problems and failures can be very powerful (and scary!) for an organization. Nonprofits -- just like people -- are often leery of talking about mistakes, because of the fear that it could cost them funding. But talking about the mistakes and sharing that can be a wellspring of learning.

We hope this has given you an overview of how to talk to about Tech, baby! For more Salt-n-Pepa Lyrics, check out this Youtube video.

And for more fun nonprofit tech talk, check out our upcoming session at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 20, 2011, 06:21 PM

B Corporations Help Nonprofits Align Spending with Mission

BCorp logo

Note: this post originally appeared on GuideStar's Trust Blog on January 18th, 2011.

Nonprofits in the U.S. spent $1.3 trillion in 2007, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.  That money was spent delivering needed services, providing salaries and benefits to employees, and paying for tools and professional services.  

Nonprofits now have a way to align their spending with their missions: B Corporations for Nonprofits.

B Corporations are a new kind of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.  Certified by a nonprofit called B Lab, B Corporations must achieve a passing score in a comprehensive survey that evaluates social and environmental responsibility.  There are over 365 B Corporations in 30 industries, and several of them are specifically dedicated to serving the needs of nonprofit organizations.

A group of B Corporations has joined together to raise awareness among nonprofits of the services that B Corporations can offer and the benefits of working with suppliers that, while structured as for-profit businesses, are dedicated to social and environmental responsibility.  

At a press conference at Busboys and Poets (also a B Corporation) in Washington, DC on Tuesday, January 18, representatives from Care2, PhilanTech, PICnet and Better World Telecom announced the formation of B Corps for Nonprofits and the launch of the www.bcorpsfornonprofits.com website.

B Corporations for Nonprofits are Certified B Corporations that earn more than 50 percent of their revenue from nonprofit clients, and/or that have a client base that is at least nonprofit organizations.

In addition to Care2, PhilanTech, PICnet, and Better World Telecom, B Corps for Nonprofits includes Mal Warwick | Donordigital, Free Range Studios, Green Retirement Plans, The Soap Group and Social K.

There are three things that make B Corporations that serve the nonprofit sector different:

  1. B Corps are not like other companies. They are social entrepreneurs with "do-gooder missions" similar to – and complementary with – the vital missions of nonprofit organizations.
  2. B Corps for Nonprofits proudly focus on serving nonprofits as their primary clients. Nonprofits are not a "sideshow" to these organizations – they are the "Main Event!"
  3. B Corps have committed to "walk the walk," not just "talk the talk," of social responsibility. They do this by meeting or exceeding a set of specific, measurable B Corporation standards, including workplace diversity, carbon neutrality, recycling and waste reduction, donating a portion of profits to good causes, etc.

Nonprofits frequently want to know that their vendors are “good” companies.  B Corporations are values-driven companies.  They are dedicated to pursuing social and environmental bottom lines while also being sustainable businesses. They have been independently vetted and verified by a third party as beneficial companies.  As such, nonprofits can feel confident that the money they spend with B Corporations has positive social and environmental impacts.

Next time you’re looking for a new website, social action network, grant management system, phone network, benefits plan, or a number of other services, remember that the company you choose can be one that is aligned with your organization’s mission and values.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 18, 2011, 05:26 PM

Streamlining Grants Management - A Little Humor and a Lot of Truth

Vladimir Nabokov wrote, "Satire is a lesson, parody is a game."

Grant T. Goldhammer and Ophelia Pain's article entitled "A Strategic Nonprofit Reorganization Plan" is just the type of satire the sector needs to drive home some critical lessons about improving relationships between funders and grantees.

In it, the authors (one of whom, according to the Nonprofit Quarterly, on whose pages both have appeared, created the Philanthrobabble Generator) satirize several common dynamics between funders and their grantees, attempting to turn the relationship on its head, in the form of a letter - really a manifesto - from a nonprofit to its funders.  For example,

Program autonomy. We will no longer seek funding for specific projects of interest to the foundation community;​ instead, all future grants will support activities at our organization’s sole discretion. This change will allow us to develop programs that best meet the needs of the communities we serve and provide for greater public input and accountability.


Streamlined grant-application process. We send you an invoice, you send us the money. No staff or board review on the funder side. This streamlined approval process will reduce meetings and bureaucracy as well as free up foundation staff and funds for expanded grantmaking.

(read the whole piece here)

While, as satire, the piece clearly goes to an extreme, it makes some important points:

  • Nonprofits need general operating support.  This has been a much-discussed topic in recent months (and years!), but little has changed in terms of the numbers of grants awarded for general operating support versus program grants;
  • Funder-grantee dynamics.  Funders have money.  Grantees want money.  Funders ask grantees to do things.  Grantees want money.  Grantees therefore do things.  Those things are not always the best use of the grantees' resources.  Collaborations are great, for example, and funders are frequently in an ideal position to identify potential collaborations.  Requiring specific collaborations is another story, and not necessarily beneficial to all paries;
  • Streamlining grant applications.  While the segment quoted above clearly takes it to an extreme, streamlining the grant administration process has benefits not only for the grantee, but also for the funder.

What do you think?  What lessons can we - as a sector - learn from this satirical send-up of the funder-grantee relationship?


Nabokov monument photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monument_Nabokov_Montreux_23.12.2006.jpg
Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 06, 2011, 06:35 PM

Good News, Bad News - Philanthropy Statistics

holiday birdhouse

It's that time of year when nonprofits and donors are thinking about year-end gifts.  Nonprofits have hopefully long since planned their year-end fundraising appeals, and are now just putting them in place (and not only hoping for good numbers, but working to make them happen) and donors are thinking about whether to make donations in lieu of gifts for the holidays (using sites like JustGive), or how to maximize their charitable tax deductions at the end of the year.

Just in time, comes some good news for nonprofits.  A recent study by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund indicates that a majority of donors (55%) intend to maintain their level of charitable giving for the end of the year.  And for those reducing their giving (as a result of the financial markets or uncertainty in the tax environment), the vast majority say giving is still important to them (which may not be helpful for year-end fundraising goals, but bodes well long term).

Enough nonprofits are optimistic about the current state of fundraising that 47% of respondents to a recent survey are planning budget increases for 2011, while 33 percent anticipate maintaining their budgets at cuurent levels.

Now the bad news.  37% percent of respondents to the same study (The Nonprofit Research Collaborative's November 2010 Fundraising Survey) indicated that giving fell in the first nine months of 2010 as compared with the first nine months of 2009.  You may recall that 2009 was not a great year, so giving numbers continuing to fall in 2010 suggests that even more nonprofits faced budget shortages, had to cut back services, and have even steeper hills to climb to try to get back to their pre-recession funding levels.  Additionally, more organizations have laid off or cut back staff, and are using volunteers to fill roles that were formerly paid positions.  And not surprisingly, the organizations that are faring the best are the larger organizations, which is consistent with other research, including The State of Grantseeking 2010.

Here's hoping that the end of 2010 and start of 2011 will lean towards more good news than bad.


(Full disclosure, I serve on JustGive's board.)

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deniscollette/4219436820/

Author: Dahna Goldstein
November 29, 2010, 07:38 PM

Philanthropy Statistics – Giving In Numbers

numbers picture

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy released the “Giving In Numbers” report highlighting current trends in corporate philanthropy.

Among the findings:

  • 60% of surveyed corporations gave less in 2009 than they did in 2008.  Interestingly, the percentage of corporations that decreased giving the 2008, in the first big philanthropy hit of the financial crisis, was lower (46%);
  • Total giving by corporations increased 7%, which seems contradictory given the number of corporations that decreased their giving, but is accounted for by significant increases in pharmaceutical company donations (including large amounts of in-kind medicine donations) and increased company giving as a result of mergers and acquisitions;
  • A key point - and something that differentiates corporate giving (as a whole) from other types of institutional giving (as a whole) is the amount of non-foundation giving.  Corporate giving numbers include in-kind donations (frequenly product donations), matching gifts (from employee donations), company giving, and foundation giving.  There has been increasing talk about strategic alignment of corporate philanthropy (and corporate social responsibility) programs, which helps explain why product/in-kind donations may not always fall as quickly as cash donations, even in bad economic times;
  • That said, corporate foundation cash giving was the most stable giving source (i.e., fluctuated the least) of the different giving sources examined in the survey.

The report indicates corporations' dedication to continuing to support their communities, particularly in difficult economic times, which I find encouraging, particularly if those corporations are finding strategic alignments for their philanthropy -- making philanthropy not an afterthought, or something good to do, but something that is a necessary part of the way they do business.

Nonprofits seeking donations from corporations should take away a few key points -- that they should not necessarily rely on continued corporation support, that they should focus on aligning their proposals with corporations' strategic objectives, and that they should find the companies in their communities that are committed to serving the type of organization that is looking for funding.  In addition, grantseekers should think about what non-cash benefits and relationships they might be able to form on an ongoing basis with companies in their communities.


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/koenvereeken/2088902012/

Author: Dahna Goldstein
November 02, 2010, 02:00 PM

Resources for Nonprofits - Tax Relief for Non-Filing Nonprofits

There has been much discussion in the nonprofit sector - at least in certain circles - about the number of nonprofits that risk losing their tax exemption because they failed to file tax returns for three years.

Apparently, there has not been enough talk.  As of May 2010, there were up to 300,000 organizations at risk of losing their tax exemption, according to the National Center for Chariable Statistics.  While some of those organizations have since filed returns, there are still thousands of nonprofits at risk.

A bit of backstory: most tax exempt organizations have always been required to file returns.  The type of return required depended on the size of the organization, but some sort of return had to be submitted.  The IRS did not really enforce this, particularly for small organizations.  Once the exemption ruling was given, the organization generally remained exempt so long as nothing dramatic caused a revocation.

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 changed that.  A provision in the Act required most organizations to file a return (again, the type of return differed) annually.  Those that failed to file for three consecutive years would automatically lose their exemption, and not necessarily be able to get it back.

The original deadline to meet the three-year filing requirement was May 17.  The IRS has created a one-time filing relief program for organizations that had filing deadlines between May 17 and October 15. 

In an interesting social media/web 2.0 move, the IRS has created a widget to help organizations identify if they are at risk of losing their exemption.  Check it out to see if your organization -- or another organization in your community -- is at risk, and file your organization's return to avoid losing tax exempt status!

Author: Dahna Goldstein
September 28, 2010, 05:51 PM

Online Grant Management - Millennium Development Goals and Data

Millennium Development GoalsThis morning, I attended the Washington DC viewing of TEDxChange.  For the uninitiated, TED is an organization that presents talks (generally at TED - Technology, Entertainment, Design - conferences) by interesting and accomplished people, or, as the organization frames it, "Ideas worth spreading."

(As an aside, TED talks are really worth checking out.  One of my favorites has nothing to do with philanthropy or grants – Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk, as a brain surgeon, talking about her experience having a stroke.)

The impetus for this morning's TEDxChange was the 10th anniversary of the UN Millennium Development Goals (for more information about the MDGs, check out the UN MDG site).  The lineup of speakers included Mechai Viravadiya, Founder and Chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (nicknamed "Mr. Condom"), Graca Machel, former Minister for Education and Culture in Mozambique, Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health (and prior TED talk presenter - worth watching), and Melinda French Gates of the Gates Foundation.

I'll leave it to others to summarize everything that was said during the talks (or you can watch the whole thing here), and focus on one theme that emerged as I listened to the talks and to the panel of experts assembled for post-event discussion at AED in Dupont Circle in DC: the importance of data in achieving the MDGs - and in social and economic change in general.

Gates' talk used Coca Cola to highlight things that work in developing countries and to propose some lessons at could be applied to development work.  Coke, she said, does three things incredibly well in developing countries: it uses real-time data, empowers local entrepreneurs, and has incredible marketing.

That first point - having and using real-time data - struck me.  Without data, how do we know what's working and what isn't?  Without data, how do we know if any intervention is actually having an impact?  How can we make a case for supporting one initiative over another?  Or the case to support an organization doing the work?  While NGOs clearly aren't the same thing as a multinational company, the broader point is well taken.  

Hans Rosling's talk also highlighted the importance of data (admittedly, the whole talk was about statistics, so of course data is important!).  He showed compelling visualizations of declines in infant mortality rates in both developing and developed countries (and made the point that, particularly as infant mortality rates decline, the distinction between "Western" and "not Western" countries is increasingly irrelevant).  Without good data - and good data collection tools, how would we know that infant mortality rates are declining?  How could the people and organizations working on that issue identify which interventions are working, or which are the most successful?

The importance of data in social change applies just as clearly to foundations and other grantmakers combating poverty, protecting the environment, and supporting communities here in the U.S.  Good data helps grantmakers determine which organizations to support, which interventions are most effective - and can, perhaps, be replicated, which initiative are, perhaps, less effective.  Long term data - trend analysis over several years - can be particularly helpful in both identifying what's working, and in tracking changes in populations and communities served.  More than just helpful, I would argue that information is critical to the work that nonprofits and philanthropies do every day.   And the importance of good tools to support that data collection can't be understated.  

As governments, NGOs, philanthropies and others continue to work towards the MDGs - and other social, economic, and environmental goals - my hope is that organizations will continue to work together not only to accomplish their goals, but to efficiently track, share, and use the revenant data.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jiadoldol/1805531326/
Author: Dahna Goldstein
September 20, 2010, 09:23 PM

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