Friday, March 14, 2014

New Forms Needed

This is an exciting time to be engaged in rethinking the role of funders and non-profits in catalyzing sustained positive community change. Dynamic thinkers and doers are raising provocative ideas and making strong cases for a revolution.

If you haven't yet read NPC's Tris Lumley's call for transformation in the social sector on the SSIR blog check it out now. He may have been a little over the top on this one, but I respect him for declaring:
Overall, there is a lack of meaningful accountability among funders to those they claim to help.
And there's this recent post from Jeff Bradach at The Bridgespan Group, who explains why scaling up and collective impact are better viewed as a mash up than as competing concepts. He adds to the growing chorus calling for more support for the capacity to collaborate and coordinate:
The program-centric perspective espoused by much of the social sector often undervalues the role played by organizations engaged in field-building work.
With all of this good thinking going on why am I writing about forms? Here's why. If foundations and other grant makers want to explore these ideas they need to accommodate them within their business practices. The Monitor Institute captured this very well in their Catalyzing Networks for Social Change report issued last year:
Basic grantmaking structures and mechanics, such as siloed program areas static application requirements, inhibit working ... with networks.
How does an organization that is providing what FSG would call "backbone functions" and Monitor would call "network cultivation" fill out a grant application that only wants to know how many individuals will be served by the grant?

Yet, that is exactly what such organizations are being asked to do -- even by foundations that have embraced collaboration, networks, systems change etc. While foundations are increasingly embracing new ways to catalyze change, many haven't yet designed new forms to accommodate this new way of thinking. This might prompt a cynic to wonder whether this new approach will be just a passing fad. Once the forms have changed, we'll know this new thinking will stick.

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