Transparency Talk

Category: "#GivingTuesday" (3 posts)

An Insider’s Guide to Giving Day
November 28, 2016

(Mike Berkowitz and Daniel Kaufman are co-founders and principals at Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. Whitney Caruso is a director at Third Plateau. They are the authors of the recent report, “Beyond the dollars: the long-term value of giving days for community foundations.”)

Mike Berkowitz
Mike Berkowitz

Giving days can be incredible tools for place-based foundations to catalyze nonprofit fundraising. We have witnessed this up close through monitoring and evaluating 49 giving day campaigns as part of the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Initiative and through advising the Sacramento Region Community Foundation on its BIG Day of Giving. We are also the authors of Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook, a how-to guide with resources and recommendations for giving day organizers. Based on our experiences, however, we have also seen that just hosting a giving day is no guarantee of community impact.

Here are three key tips for foundations in accelerating community impact with giving days and other community-wide online fundraising campaigns:

Caruso Headshot
Whitney Caruso

1. Become a data hub. The power of big data to improve programs and accelerate social impact is becoming increasingly apparent. Giving days enable communities to collect large amounts of data from participating nonprofits and donors, which they can utilize to inform programs and ideas to improve their communities. In Miami, the community foundation is creating a map of the nonprofits and donors that participated in Give Miami Day in 2015. Community foundation staff have said that this will give them a firm understanding of where nonprofits and donors come from and enable them to identify gaps in services and more strategically engage specific neighborhoods. Going a step further, technology expert Amy Webb, speaking at Knight Foundation’s 2016 Media Learning Seminar, argued that community foundations have the potential to use data not just to map current community needs, but to predict them.

Daniel Kaufman

2. Build local nonprofit capacity. This kind of fundraising does not necessarily come naturally to all organizations. Trainings are a central component of giving day organizers’ responsibilities and provided community foundations a chance to teach nonprofits important new skills. To build the capacity of nonprofits for the giving days and beyond, community foundations ran trainings on topics such as online fundraising, communications and branding, major donor cultivation and donor retention.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation had a sophisticated training series for its Big Day of Giving. The “Boot Camp” series included sessions on building a GivingEdge profile, maximizing social media, engaging nonprofit donors and boards, and developing an eight-week work plan for the campaign. Post-event surveys in 2015 found that these trainings paid off, as nonprofits whose representatives attended all four sessions of the series raised 100 percent more than those that did not.

3. Build awareness of broader foundation efforts. Giving days should not operate in a vacuum, and community foundations increasingly tied the campaigns to their other strategic initiatives. For example, the Community Foundation of Grand Forks used its giving day in 2014 as part of an existing effort to engage the community around two issues (homelessness and limited access to health care) and two opportunities (adventure and public arts).

4. Connect fund holders to the broader community. Community foundations found the giving days to be a useful and exciting opportunity to engage fund holders. Thirteen community foundations enabled DAFs to donate through their giving days, resulting in 592 DAFs donating $3,556,129 to participating nonprofits.

Giving days are not for every foundation, so if a giving day does not align with your foundation’s goals, you may be better off skipping it than trying to get in on the campaign just because everyone else is. But as with most things in life, the more experience you have with giving days, the better you will be at using them to your organization’s full advantage—particularly if you see them as learning opportunities and track donation and marketing data to help shape future efforts.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

--Mike Berkowitz, Whitney Caruso, and Daniel Kaufman 

What’s Your Giving Story?
November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to celebrate what we are thankful for.  For many families, the holiday also marks the beginning of a charitable season, when many focus on sharing and end-of-year giving.

In addition to sharing time and treasure, a movement has started to encourage donors to also share their stories. In recent years, with the advent of social platforms and digital media, nonprofits have felt the pressure to develop media savvy techniques for highlighting the value of their work. 

As it turns out, one of the most powerful ways to tell that story can be by putting the spotlight on the donor voice.  One of the great benefits of philanthropic transparency is that it can rally others to the cause, and that is the premise behind the #MyGivingStory campaign sponsored by #GivingTuesday, which not only encourages us all to become donors, but to also open up and share WHY we give.

One of the great benefits of philanthropic transparency is that it can rally others to the cause, and that is the premise behind the #MyGivingStory campaign.

Founded in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday has become a worldwide movement that celebrates giving and philanthropy.  In the United States, it is observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday as a way to bring some balance to a season often criticized for its focus on consumerism. 

Among #GivingTuesday’s numerous supporters are Bill and Melinda Gates and Steve and Jean Case, who have pledged to give away the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

Donors are encouraged to share why they give on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. As part of the #MyGivingStory contest, donors can share about a time when they gave to a nonprofit organization, and why it was meaningful to them. 

Sharing personal stories “celebrates and encourages giving” in addition to connecting diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations worldwide, according to #GivingTuesday.

Some #GivingTuesday donors have a personal connection to the charities they support.  In a #GivingTuesday testimony shared by The Huffington Post and 92nd Street Y, Jared Calhoun describes how Ronald McDonald House Charities provided Calhoun and his family much-needed support during a family crisis.  Calhoun’s two-year-old daughter Katelyn was diagnosed with advanced stage neuroblastoma, a type of cancer, and required multiple biopsies, five rounds of chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy. 

#MGS“During the ordeal and scary moments at the hospital, we were able to find family moments, hugs, smiles and laughter thanks to the Ronald McDonald House,” Calhoun said in his testimony. “Before this experience I didn't know why RMHC was so important. But I can certainly tell that story now. And I'm a big fan.”   

Actor Chris Evans, known for his title role in the Captain America franchise, shared that he likes giving to the #TheRealSuperheroes – young cancer patients – at Christopher’s Haven, a children’s charity that supports child cancer patients when they return home after hospital treatments. 

Nominators may submit 200-word essays about why they are inspired to give to their favorite 501c3-registered organizations.  The public will help select semi-finalists by voting now through November 24.  A panel of judges will determine the winners, who will be announced on Dec. 1 – #GivingTuesday.

Opening up about giving pays off: #GivingTuesday organizers will give away six prizes to the donors and their favorite organizations.  Two nonprofits will receive the top prize of $5,000, and their nominators will receive $500.  Organizers will also give away two second prizes ($2,000 for nonprofits and $200 for nominators) and two third ($1,000 for nonprofits and $100 for nominators) prizes.

What’s your giving story?

--Melissa Moy

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation’s Kelly Fitzsimmons Discusses a New Blueprint for Evaluation Plans
October 15, 2014

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, has recently created a new document that’s designed to help organizations build a comprehensive evaluation design. The Social Innovation Fund Evaluation Plan Guidance aims to share best practices to benefit and strengthen the sector as a whole.

Recently, Transparency Talk conducted an online interview with Kelly Fitzsimmons of The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) and with Michael Smith, Director of the Social Innovation Fund, to learn how the new framework provided by SIF can be adapted for use in assessing foundation program impact.


Kelly Fitzsimmons


Michael Smith

1.    Please tell us a little bit about the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and why you became involved in the Social Innovation Fund?  

EMCF: The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation seeks to transform the life trajectories of vulnerable and economically disadvantaged youth by making multi-million, multi-year investments in nonprofits with a potential for growth and compelling evidence that they can help more young people become successful, productive adults.

We agreed to become a SIF intermediary based on our belief that the Social Innovation Fund could become a catalyst for scaling "what works” by encouraging the public and private sectors to direct more resources to the most effective solutions to some of our nation’s seemingly intractable social problems.  

As a SIF intermediary, we have helped mobilize a total of $120 million in 12 promising, evidence-based organizations: $30 million in federal funds from the SIF with $30 million from our own resources and, through the True North Fund, helped our grantees secure the $60 million required for match. Our SIF grants are designed to build the evidence base and organizational capacity of this portfolio of nonprofits so they can, within three years:

  • Significantly increase the numbers of youth served by effective programs, and
  • Substantially advance the evidence of their effectiveness with rigorous, independent program evaluations.

2. What do you see as the value of program evaluations in your field?

For us at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the biggest positives is that evaluation can expand what you know about what “works” as well as about what doesn’t work. It’s our belief that program evaluations are a key driver of innovation.

EMCF: I think there are some misconceptions about what you “do” with program evaluation. For us at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the biggest positives is that evaluation can expand what you know about what “works” as well as about what doesn’t work. It’s our belief that program evaluations are a key driver of innovation.

Whether a study shows positive, mixed or disappointing results, if carefully designed it almost always unearths information that can be used to innovate and improve how a program is delivered to boost quality and impact.  To get the most out of an evaluation, we believe it is critical during the planning stage for organizations and their evaluators to ask themselves not only what impacts they are looking to test, but also what they’d like to learn about the program’s implementation.  For example, answering questions such as: “How closely is the program run compared to the intended model?” or “To what extent does this or that program component contribute to impact?” can yield important insights into how well a program is implemented across different sites (or cities or regions) or reveal differences in impacts depending on the population served or environmental factors.

3.     How does having evaluation plans, like the Social Innovation Fund’s Evaluation Plan Guidance, help nonprofits become more effective?

EMCF_logoEMCF: The Social Innovation Fund’s tool is a useful resource for organizations interested in building their evidence base and thinking about how to plan thoughtfully for evaluation. It offers practical takeaways that organizations should consider when thinking about evaluation, from structuring an evaluation plan to what elements should be considered in an evaluation, and even ways to assess the feasibility of undertaking one. A thoughtful evaluation plan can also inform an organization’s larger plans. For example, if an evaluation requires that *X* number of kids must participate in order for a program to be assessed, does your organization need to grow or adapt in order to meet that threshold? If so, how will the organization get there while maintaining program quality? 

In essence, a strong, multi-year evaluation plan is much like a strong business plan—it helps you think about the resources you need, identify your interim and ultimate goals, and even decide what to do and how to communicate if your plan goes off-track. 

4.     How do EMCF and your grantees use the data you’ve collected from evaluations?

EMCF: We like to approach evidence building from the premise that we’re seeking to understand *how* a program works, not just *if* a program works. From this perspective, whether the findings are positive, mixed or null, evaluating programs over time can yield insights that inform practice, drive innovation and ultimately ensure the best possible outcomes for youth and families. 

In essence, a strong, multi-year evaluation plan is much like a strong business plan—it helps you think about the resources you need, identify your interim and ultimate goals, and even decide what to do and how to communicate if your plan goes off-track.

For example, take Reading Partners, which connects students who are half a grade to 2 ½ grades behind in reading with trained volunteers who use a specialized curriculum. A recently released MDRC evaluation found these kids made greater gains in literacy—1.5 to two months—than their peers after an average of 28 hours of Reading Partners’ instruction. During the evaluation, MDRC was able to corroborate that local sites were implementing the program with a high degree of fidelity, including providing appropriate support and training to volunteer tutors. The data collected also indicated the program was effective across different subsets of students, increasing reading ability across 2nd to 5th different grade, varying baseline reading achievement levels, for girls and boys, and even non-native English speakers. This knowledge is now helping Reading Partners think more strategically about how and where it expands to impact more kids. 

We worked with Reading Partners as we do with other EMCF grantees, bringing in experts to help them develop high-quality evaluation plans, often connecting them to other experts, and also funding their evaluations. We help them identify key evaluation questions at the outset, work together to monitor progress toward evaluation goals, to make revisions to their plans when circumstances change or new information arises, and to communicate results when they become available. Evidence building is a continuous, dynamic process that informs how EMCF as well as our grantees set and reach our growth, learning and impact goals.

SIF_logoWe also use quality and impact data to help measure and track quarterly and annually the performance of each grantee and our entire portfolio, including whether our investment strategy is having its intended effect of aiding our grantees in meeting the yearly and end-of-investment milestones and evidence-building goals on which we have mutually agreed.

5.  Many funders express that they are using such evaluations as learning tools.  But there is a fear factor that comes in when grantees have specific benchmarks to meet and then fail to meet them that it will mean they will not receive renewed support.  And that speaks to the tension between risk, innovation, and accountability.  How do you navigate those tensions so that the assessment process doesn't actually stand in the way of risk and innovation?

SIF: Our grantees have expressed this concern too and the way we have answered it is this: evaluation should be about proving and improving. Evaluation results should represent the beginning of a process where all stakeholders use what is learned to enhance and even overhaul programs.

The Social Innovation Fund is, at its core, a grand experiment. As part of this experiment, we are here to learn and together. The investment we are making in our grantees’ and subgrantees’ innovation is a risk, but it’s a measured, calculated risk.

The Social Innovation Fund is, at its core, a grand experiment. As part of this experiment, we are here to learn and together. The investment we are making in our grantees’ and subgrantees’ innovation is a risk, but it’s a measured, calculated risk. Their evaluations will help us understand what works.

If their program comes back with, say, null results but some really valuable information about how the program was implemented or a specific population that needs a different approach to achieve impact – we will not write that off as a failure. But we will demand that our grantees use that information to get the positive results next time. And we expect that they will share this information with their peers so that other programs can learn and build on these lessons.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the field to make sure evaluation information released isn’t treated as binary – it works or it doesn’t. All of the evaluation reports we’ve seen to date are more in the gray area, even those with truly positive impact. There is always some element of a program that doesn’t work as anticipated. We know that most folks don’t dig in to find those details, and we have committed to working with our grantees to start the conversations that will help others utilize the evaluation information coming out of the SIF so that the results aren’t seen as an up or down vote – they are seen as rich sources of information that can be truly useful.

-- Kelly Fitzsimmons and Michael Smith

Share This Blog

  • Share This

Subscribe to Transparency Talk

  • Enter your email address:

About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the GlassPockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Candid highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Candid.

    Questions, comments, and inquiries relating to guest blog posts may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Senior Director of Candid Learning