Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lunchtime Conversations


As an office full of self-proclaimed “nonprofit nerds”, it should come as no surprise that our lunchtime conversations often turn to the latest nonprofit headlines we see on twitter, hear on NPR, or read about in the Huffington Post.

The past few weeks have been no different at the Charities Review Council, as we’ve been provided with a plethora of lunchtime fodder. Here’s what we’ve been talking about lately:

When Peter Buffet, son of the infamous Warren, took to the pages of the New York Times to express his take on philanthropy and the wrongdoings of the sector, his words sparked conversation in lunch rooms, news rooms, conference rooms and Facebook feeds across the nation. Buffet explains that philanthropy is actually feeding the cycle of inequality in our world and to combat it, we need “a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up.” He goes so far as to say that there is a “crisis of imagination” and whole-heartedly disregards the notion of ROI in the nonprofit world.

While most reactions were quick to criticize, Chronicle of Philanthropy columnist, Phil Buchanan, made sure to point out some of Buffet’s valid arguments that we shouldn’t outright dismiss. The Chronicle ran a summary of many of the responses from thought leaders around the country. Mr. Buffet himself has continued to participate in the discussion and has responded to criticism by clarifying some of the points he made in his original piece.

This American Life, the weekly show broadcast on National Public Radio, recently featured a story about an unusual sort of charity – one that provides money to those in need, instead of building houses, digging wells, or providing animals. GiveDirectly was founded in 2008 by a group of Harvard and MIT economic development students looking for a vehicle to send monetary donations directly to the poor, allowing them to decide how to best use it. Even with the explosion of mobile banking in developing countries, the founders realized that very few nonprofits were utilizing these tools and directly addressing the need with no-strings-attached financial assistance.

According to its website, “As a non-profit created by donors, GiveDirectly is focused exclusively on giving to the poorest possible households at the lowest possible cost. Its leaders have no personal financial stake in the success of the organization, as their time is all volunteered.” GiveDirectly recently completed an in-depth report on their work in Kenya, expansion into a second country, and the long-term outlook of the organization. Listen to the NPR story here, and tell us, do you think giving money directly to those in need is an effective way to address poverty?

There you have it – a sneak peek into our lunch room. Though these conversations often happen spontaneously, they always leave us with a new sense of inspiration and motivation to work harder and think more innovatively. What have you been talking about lately on your lunch break, around the conference table, or at the water cooler?

1 comment:

Steve Boland said...

Yes, these have been some provocative thoughts in both these cases. They highlight the importance of transparency in the sector, and not just in the "where is your money from" part of the equation - but also the "how do you measure success?" part of the equation. My thoughts on that at http://www.nextinnonprofits.com/2013/08/transparency/

Steve