Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. B. PERSISTENT CHALLENGES

05/01/2009

Despite apparent consensus by both public and private funders that certain practices support the success of philanthropic initiatives, many have not regularly been adopted. Suggested practices include measuring progress, providing reliable funding, and avoiding fragmentation of efforts. Transparency and accountability, also considered a boon to effective programming, are also sometimes given short shrift.

1. Inadequate Measurement

Measurement of outputs, outcomes, impacts, and/or influence is a necessarybut exceedingly thornyendeavor (HELP Commission 2007; Kaufmann and Searle 2007; Porter and Kramer 1999; Sandfort 2008). While some organizations have developed innovative approaches to measurement, many more are lacking in this respect. First, funders must decide what to measure. Measurement may seem straightforward on the surface, but it often masks complex tensions. For example, there is a tendency among foundations and some USG agencies, to focus measurement on outputs (the products of program activities) rather than outcomes (changes in participants or program targets that follow from outputs) (HELP Commission 2007; Porter and Kramer 1999). This may occur because it is much simpler to measure, for example, the number of persons served than the extent to which a persons life has improved. Some have even argued that foundation culture is hostile to measuring outcomes, not to mention impacts that can be causally linked to the program, which require more rigorous, costly methods as well as practices some groups find objectionable, such as random assignment to treatment and control groups, to demonstrate. As Michael Porter and Mark Kramer point out in their seminal article, Philanthropys New Agenda, foundations own internal processes provide the wrong incentives for adequate measurement: Failure risks censure, they note, but success adds no reward (1999, p. 129). Similarly, bureaucratic government procedures may require monitoring of outputs for accountability purposes but rarely do they monitor outcomes with the same vigilance, or provide resources to help do so (HELP 2007, p. 92).

Even in instances where resources and support are available to measure something beyond outputs, appropriate metrics may be unavailable (Sandfort 2008), and inconsistency between those metrics, such as in the measurement of social return or social value, makes comparison across programs difficult (W.K. Kellogg Foundation 2003). Moreover, philanthropic missionsas well as many of the broader USG aid goals, such as democratization and support for civil societyoften are focused primarily on influencing whole social systems, rather than the impacts on discrete individuals or communities. Metrics for such influence are, however, only in a formative stage at this time (Kaufmann and Searle 2007).

2. Lack of Reliable Funding

There is consensus in the literature that both the magnitude and consistency of funding over time is critical for the success of philanthropic and aid initiatives, but the literature also indicates that both private and public funders often are unwilling or unable to commit adequate resources. Among foundations, there appears to be a common mindset that their resources are best used for quick, responsive, and/or innovative efforts (Balin 2003; Benedict 2003a; Porter and Kramer 1999), a position which overlaps with the notion, discussed previously, that government will pick up where foundations leave off. Yet criticsfrom both inside and outside of the foundation worldhave voiced concern that such strategies may undercut initiatives potential for sustainability. Moreover, inconsistency of resources can put unnecessary strain on the organizations that actually implement funded programs, diverting their attention from quality program implementation or service delivery to budgeting and management concerns (Balin 2003; Benedict 2003a; Desai and Kharas 2008).

The problem is perhaps less urgent among publicly funded initiatives, but it is not wholly absent in this area, as neither the availability of funds nor the priorities for spending are constant (HELP 2007; Kharas 2008). Brookings scholar Homi Kharas echoes the concerns described above about the burden on recipient organizations, noting that when organizations rely on multiple funders, they must direct resources to more donor requests for studies, individual meetings with country officials, establishment of separate project management units, [and] multiple procurement practices for the same products (p. 15). Interestingly, those in the public sector concerned about shortsightedness or lack of commitment to providing adequate resources sometimes point to foundations as potential partners in addressing the problem (USAID 2007; U.S. Department of State 2007). More often, however, attention is directed to private, for-profit efforts, like many of USAIDs Global Development Alliance partnerships, to encourage sustainability (MCC 2008b; USAID 2007).

3. Fragmentation

Closely linked to resource stability, fragmentation of aid efforts is a continuing problem, as pointed out by scholars studying both public and private initiatives (HELP 2007; Kharas 2008; Porter and Kramer 1999; Sandfort 2008). While the prevailing culture of independence among foundations often is viewed in a positive light (see below), Porter and Kramer (1999) note that it also can impede the development of best practices in a given field, as foundations may not communicate what they have learned to one another or to the outside world. Kharas expresses a parallel concern about public aid initiatives (2008; p. 15), and the same concern prompted the HELP Commission to make its first recommendation the development of an integrated approach to foreign aid, where all USG efforts would be coordinated through a single cabinet-level position and agency (2007).

4. Lack of Transparency and Accountability

Concerns about transparency and accountability have been raised with regard to public and private, as well as domestic and international initiatives. Indeed, as noted above, such matters were at the very heart of the development of the MCC and its approach to developing aid initiatives. Still, problems with transparency and accountability probably are more pronounced in the private philanthropic sector, as there often is a sense that foundation decisions are opaque or even capricious, and that both internal and external accountability measures are minimal (Guidice and Bolduc 2004; Porter and Kramer 1999). While private philanthropists are, in the words of the former president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, managing money that involves a public trust (15 Minutes with Susan Berresford 2003, p. 17), they are not accountable to the public in the same sense as USG agencies.

View full report

Preview
Download

"report.pdf" (pdf, 1.78Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®