What to Stop Doing—Immediately

As we are learning more about our audience through feedback on our recent survey and other channels, we’re hearing that social impact practitioners like you have an overwhelming appetite for advice. When you’re solving the world’s toughest problems, the stakes are high and no one wants to waste time and resources.

We’ve asked 4 leaders in the social sector to share their advice on a practice that we need to stop doing immediately in order to be most effective as a social sector. Let us know what you think of this list and which others you would add.

1) Stop saving money for a rainy day—when it's pouring right now

A chief weakness of the social sector is that it's taking on massive problems with a slingshot. For example, while Coca-Cola spent over $3 billion in a recent year on advertising, climate change advocates are working with a fraction of that budget. The Ford Foundation, one the biggest grantmakers in the world, spends as much every year as the New York City public school system spends in a week.

How can the social sector mobilize more resources to have more impact? One obvious way is to increase the payout rates of foundations. 

Once upon a time, in a far less wealthy America, there was a powerful argument for carefully husbanding philanthropic endowments. Today, though, amid an explosion of huge fortunes in the second Gilded Age, we know that charitable dollars are not a finite resource. Foundations that spend down today will be replaced by new foundations tomorrow. 

As well, we know more than ever about the power of preventative interventions. In many areas, smart giving now may be able to obviate the need for bigger spending later. With millions of children dying annually from preventable diseases, millions more growing up illiterate, and climate change threatening all societies, philanthropy needs to stop saving so much money for a rainy day. 

-David Callahan, Founder and Editor, Inside Philanthropy

2) Stop creating a double standard

We need to stop creating a double standard for nonprofits. We should hold nonprofits to the same standards as we hold for-profits: from supporting robust leadership development, to making healthy investments in the sales (fundraising) and marketing functions of organizations, to acknowledging that overhead and infrastructure costs are a very necessary part of running effective organizations, to recognizing nonprofits’ critical contributions to the overall economy.

Let’s stop putting the entities that are focused on creating social good at a disadvantage over those that are focused on individual profit. Let’s put nonprofits on a level playing field. Then we can get some real change done. 

-Nell Edgington, President, Social Velocity

3) Stop going to conferences

That's a generalization, but don't just accept you have to or should go to conferences. Break the mold and break the burnout. Plus, you can learn a lot online.   

If you do go to a conference, determine your objectives prior.  For us at UniversalGiving, I usually speak if I go, and with a specific reason for relationship building.

A lot of time can be spent at conferences—and travel—and energy from you as a leader—with unclear results. When in question, you can rotate years, such as going every other year or every third year (don't worry you can still stay on top of trends!) And if you are really worried and not able to break the conference habit, you can send marketing materials and still gain presence.

Be thoughtful about how you spend your time as a leader.

-Pamela Hawley, Founder and CEO, UniversalGiving

4) Stop supporting things that don’t work (duh?)

These are my personal thoughts, and are about the entire social sector, including but not limited to philanthropy specifically.

We in the social sector can unintentionally but frequently reinforce social systems and structures that maintain the status quo, and so maintain the systems that perpetuate poverty, inequities, and other undesired outcomes. In the case of poverty reduction in the United States, for example, the sector tends to favor approaches that, yes, help people, but for the most part maintain them in a state of poverty. In part this is because we prefer to spread resources thinly across many interventions serving all people, rather than focusing more deeply on a few.

Due to our big hearts, we in the sector tend to view all interventions as equally worthy, and neither look hard at evidence of outcomes when they exist, nor seriously support interventions to be tested so that we can know results. We will not divert resources from direct services to understanding what works—particularly for understanding what will work for communities not served well by ‘one size fits all’-type approaches.

This leaves us supporting many well intentioned efforts that wind up maintaining people in a level of poverty just above abject poverty, but do not support people to permanently escape poverty, nor do we question the underlying principles and structures that lead us to have such large numbers of our neighbors with little to no economic mobility in the first place. Thus are we constantly purchasing and applying bandages that we’re not even sure will stop the bleeding.

-Ken Thompson, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation



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