Charity AND Change; Social Innovation AND Social Justice

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Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Paul Connolly, Senior Vice President and Director of TCC Group.

by:  Paul Connolly

During a Council on Foundations conference mini-plenary session yesterday on “Social Justice – From Here to 2030,” some of the panelists observed that too many philanthropic dollars were devoted to transactional direct service delivery and not enough were for advocacy to support transformative change. This is true, yet too often, an unhelpful “either-or” dichotomy of “charity vs. change” is set up for debate, when a combination of charity AND change is most effective. In many cases, nonprofit organizations that provide direct services to disadvantaged people are better able to advocate for policy change because their service delivery work informs their system change efforts and enhances their credibility among stakeholders. The settlement house movement in Chicago and New York over a century ago is a good example of how social services for immigrants fed into early community organizing activities that influenced progressive public policy change. Today, we see this same type of synergy as nonprofits that provide basic support services to immigrants and refugees are playing a critical role in mobilizing their constituents to speak out about changing government policies and regulations.

Another divisive dichotomy was set up when a panelist derided a concurrent mini-plenary on “social innovation” which was focusing on applying business principles to the social sector. Social justice leaders need to beware of assuming the moral high ground and dismissing strategy development and performance measurement too quickly. One panelist went so far as to say that metrics was a “fetish that undermines impact.” Really? Yes, performance measurement that is used only as a judgmental report card can be unhelpful. But evaluation that focuses on systematically learning about what has worked and why can lead to better strategies and outcomes. Deliberate rigor and reflection advances — and does not undermine — social innovation AND social justice.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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