Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is strategic rural philanthropy really outdated?

Less than a year ago Nonprofit Quarterly published an article saying philanthropy can solidify rural communities by bridging economic, social and cultural gaps to bring people together. But is strategic philanthropy in rural America outdated? William Schambra, director of the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson Institute, examines the issue basing his information on a study published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which is behind a paywall.

"The more foundations embrace strategic philanthropy, the clearer its limitations become," the study report says. "As practiced today, strategic philanthropy assumes that outcomes arise from a linear chain of causation that can be predicted, attributed and repeated, even though we know that social change is often unpredictable, multifaceted and idiosyncratic. It locks funders into a rigid multi-year agenda although the probability and desirability of achieving any given outcome waxes and wanes over time. Rigorous evaluations attempt to isolate the impact of solitary interventions without effective models of dissemination. And the forced simplicity of logic models often misleads funders to overlook the complex dynamics and interpersonal relationships among numerous nonprofit, for-profit and government actors that determine real world events."

The authors "were probably not considering the incredulous reaction of nonprofit CEOs when they wrote such a scathing indictment of the past two decades of foundation practice," Schambra writes. "But it’s a view that must be taken into account, for the true damage from this deeply flawed approach must ultimately be borne by frontline nonprofits, who were so often compelled to adopt it by their funders."

Schambra concludes, "Far down in the trenches, strategic philanthropy in its earlier crude, rigid, cause/effect form is only now consolidating its hold. It’s all the cruder and more rigid, of course, because it’s so often applied by program officers who themselves were only hastily drilled in the fundamentals at a couple of regional association workshops. They cannot be counted on to keep up with the subtler and more nuanced versions of strategy preached by the leading theorists in the latest issue of SSIR. So just as 'old' strategic philanthropy is finally penetrating to the outermost reaches of civil society, this vast, shambling theoretical framework has suddenly been shaken at its core by the apostasy of some of its leading practitioners, writing the lead article in strategic philanthropy’s flagship journal." (Read more)

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