Philanthrosaurus Fall 2016

It’s time for another round of philanthrosaurus – a chance to translate trending or cliché phrases and concepts in philanthropy.

Sustainability – what funders want but often have no way to clearly define. The Nonprofits Assistance Fund defines sustainability as the ability to carry out mission-related activities today while also developing capacity for mission relevance in the future. When defining financially healthy organizations, they couple sustainability with stability—the ability to provide uninterrupted programs and services.

In order to build nonprofit sustainability in a realistic way, California’s regional grantmaker associations have partnered on the Real Cost Project—an effort to provide resources on program, operating and capital costs, all of which are necessary investments if a nonprofit is to deliver on mission and sustain for the long term. Check out for details.

Big Bets – If you’ve recently had a board member pressing his or her colleagues to make “big bets,” it’s likely he or she read an article in the Winter 2016 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review by authors from The Bridgespan Group. Their premise: In the past decade, with all the talk of social change, fewer big philanthropic gifts are earmarked for the work than you’d think. They describe barriers donors experience when considering social-change grants, in hopes that donors will throw more “risk capital” (jargon alert!) in this direction.

Outcomes, Indicators or Metrics, Impact – Have you been working in the field for years, hearing these terms used interchangeably? You’re not alone. Philanthropists use evaluation terms in ways that would make an academically-trained evaluator pull her hair out.

Technically speaking, an outcome is a clear statement of a targeted change that is within a foundation or grantee’s sphere of influence to change. An indicator or metric is a specific and observable measurement of an outcome. We often say, we want to know what impact we are having, but impact exists within a foundation or grantee’s sphere of aspiration. With so many contextual and contributing factors, we can’t draw a direct line to or claim attribution for impact. Plus, the time horizon for impact is LONG. We’ll be talking more about these and other concepts as part of our Evaluating Impact training on November 16.

Wicked Problems – As we dig deeper into root cause of the issues we’re addressing, we realize we’re facing what are often called wicked problems, sticky issues or grand challenges. The issues are complex, their context is ever shifting, and they can’t be solved by one person, profession, government or sector. Global climate change, international drug or sex trafficking, zoonotic disease outbreaks—the list of wicked problems being addressed by foundations globally is extensive and speaks to the need for philanthropy to partner across sectors. More on this in the spring 2017 issue of Giving Forum!

Bonus term: Philanthropoid – If someone calls you a philanthropoid, don’t take offense or start name-calling. It’s an endearing term for those working in the field of philanthropy, and it’s better than philanthronerd. Maybe.