Over the years, Brad Rose Consulting has provided evaluation services to philanthropies and community service organizations. These clients are dedicated to making the world a better place, often through philanthropic work with disadvantaged populations. While the work of philanthropies is generally perceived as laudable, there are a number of potential objections to the rise of philanthropic largesse.
- Charities often target symptoms, not causes- Charity helps the recipient with their problem, but it doesn’t do much to deal with the causes of that problem.
- Charity may become a substitute for real justice- The idea that charity is wrong when it’s used to patch up the effects of the fundamental injustices that are built into the structure and values of a society.
- Charity may not provide the best solution to a problem- Charitable giving may not be the most effective way of solving world poverty. Indeed, charitable giving may even distract from finding the best solution – which might involve a complex rethink of the way the world organizes its economic relationships, and large-scale government initiatives to change people’s conditions.
- Charity may benefit the state rather than the needy- If the charity sector increases spending in an area also funded by government then there is a risk that government will choose to spend less in that area.
- Charities are often accountable to the givers not the receivers- because the recipients of charity are often unorganized and the charity doesn’t know their individual identities, it’s often easier for charities to make their performance reports to the givers.
In his article “The Downside of Doing Good,” David Campbell examines recent critiques of philanthropy. Following Anand Giridharadas (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) Campbell argues that “wealthy philanthropists and other prominent social change leaders often co-exist in a parallel universe (called) “MarketWorld,” where the best solutions to society’s problems require the same knowhow used in corporate boardrooms. That is because MarketWorld ignores the underlying causes for problems like poverty and hunger.
He further observes that efforts at educational reform funded by such philanthropic luminaries as Bill and Melinda Gates, via support for charter schools, often fail to understand the underlying inequalities that make schools resourced in vastly different ways. “As long as school systems are funded locally, based on property values, students in wealthy communities will have advantages over those residing in poorer ones. However, creating a more equal system to pay for schools would take tax dollars and advantages away from the rich. The wealthy would lose, and the disadvantaged would win. So it’s possible to see the nearly $500 million that billionaires and other rich people have pumped into charter schools and other education reform efforts over the past dozen years, as a way to dodge this problem.”
“The Downside of Doing Good,” David Campbell
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas
Just Giving Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, by Rob Reich
Most of us spend a good portion of our lives in organizations or indirectly relating to organizations (businesses, non-profits, civic and legal organizations, religious organizations, military and criminal justice organizations, etc.). One might say that in the modern world, we “live in” an environment composed largely of organizations. (See our previous blogposts “Organization Development: What Is It & How Can Evaluation Help?” and “What’s the Difference? 10 Things You Should Know About Organizations vs. Programs”)
Organizations contain, utilize, and deploy various kinds of social power. Such power is the capacity of individuals and groups to affect, control, or influence outcomes (i.e. changes). Power doesn’t exist in isolation, but in relationships to other individuals and/or groups. If we want to accomplish goals at work—whether these goals are about producing widgets, or making the world a better place—we need to draw on and negotiate various kinds of formal and informal power. Sometimes it may be useful to think of various resources as sources of power. Tangible resources include, money, machinery, physical infrastructure, etc. Less tangible, but no less important, resources may include, authority, social status/prestige, social networks, individuals’ intelligence, professional experience, even social attractiveness and charisma. Both tangible and intangible resources are used as sources of power with which organizations achieve objectives and goals.
In her article, “Types of Powers in Organizations,” Diana Dahl summarizes 7 types of power in organizations. These include:
- Coercive Power— a person or group is able to punish others for not following orders has coercive power.
- Connection Power— connection power is gained by knowing and being listened to by influential people. Increasing connections and mastering political networking lead to a greater potential for connection power.
- Reward Power— the ability to give rewards to other employees. Rewards are not always monetary, such as improved work hours and words of praise.
- Legitimate Power (also known as legitimate authority)— when employees believe a person can give orders based on his position within the organization, such as when a manager orders staff members to complete a task and they comply because the orders came from their superior.
- Referent Power— people who are liked, respected, and are viewed by other employees as worth emulating. Supervisors who lead by example, treat employees with respect, seek their collaboration and gain the trust of their employees possess referent power.
- Informational Power— access to valued information. This power can be quickly fleeting because once the needed information is shared, the person’s power is gone.
- Expert Power— the greater a person’s knowledge or specialized skill set, the greater her potential for expert power.
People in organizations must get things accomplished. Having a clear idea of what constitutes organizational power and the kinds of resources that need to mobilized to reach goals, may help us to better navigate what are often complicated and contentious organizations.
Power in Organizations: Structures, Processes and Outcomes, by Richard Hall and Pamela Tolbert Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005, 9th edition
“Types of Powers in Organizations,” by Diana Dahl ; Updated September 26, 2017
Links to and summaries of “Theories of Organizational Power” at bankofinfo.com/theories-of-organizational-power
“Power and Politics in Organizational Life,” Abraham Zaleznik, Harvard Business Review
In a previous blog post, “Why You Hate Work” we discussed an article that appeared in the New York Times that investigated the way that the contemporary workplace too often produces a sense of depletion and employee “burnout.” In that article, the authors, Tony Schwartz and Christin Porath, argued that only when companies attempt to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of their employees by creating “truly human-centered organizations,” can these companies create the conditions for more engaged and fulfilled workers, and in so doing, become more productive and profitable organizations.
In that eponymous blogpost, we suggested that employee burnout is not an unknown feature of the non-profit world, and that, while program evaluation cannot itself prevent employee burnout, it can add to non-profit organizations’ capacities to create organizations in which staff and program participants have a greater sense of efficacy and purposefulness. (See also our blogpost “Program Evaluation and Organization Development” )
Of course, the problem of employee burnout and alienation is a perennial one. It occurs in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. In a more recent article, “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” New York Times, January 26, 2019, Erin Griffith says that in recent years, there has emerged a “hustle culture,”—especially for millennials. This culture, Griffith argues, “…is obsessed with striving, (is) relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and — once you notice it — impossible to escape.” She sites the artifacts of such a culture, which include at one WeWork location, in New York, neon signs that exhorts workers to “Hustle harder,” and murals that spread the gospel of T.G.I.M. (Thank God It’s Monday). Somewhat horrified by the Stakhanovite tenor of the WeWork environment, Griffith notes, “Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. ‘Don’t stop when you’re tired,’… ‘Stop when you are done.’” “In the new work culture,” Griffith observes, “enduring or even merely liking one’s job is not enough. Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers.”
Griffith is not concerned with employee burnout. Instead, she is horrified by the degree to which many younger employees have internalized the obsessively productivist, “workaholic” norms of their employers and, more broadly, of contemporary corporations. These norms include the apotheosis of excessive work hours and the belief that devotion to anything other than work is somehow a shameful betrayal of the work ethic. She quotes the founder of online platform, Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson, who observes, “The vast majority of people beating the drums of hustle-mania are not the people doing the actual work. They’re the managers, financiers and owners.”
Griffith writes, “…as tech culture infiltrates every corner of the business world, its hymns to the virtues of relentless work remind me of nothing so much as Soviet-era propaganda, which promoted impossible-seeming feats of worker productivity to motivate the labor force. One obvious difference, of course, is that those Stakhanovite posters had an anti-capitalist bent, criticizing the fat cats profiting from free enterprise. Today’s messages glorify personal profit, even if bosses and investors — not workers — are the ones capturing most of the gains. Wage growth has been essentially stagnant for years.”
“Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” Erin Griffith, New York Times, January 26, 2019
“The Fleecing of Millennials” David Leonhardt, New York Times, January 27, 2019
During the last 15-20 years, “social innovations” (SIs) have grown both in number and in terminological confusion. Social innovations include initiatives and programs as substantively diverse as micro credit organizations, charter schools, environmental emissions credit trading schemes, and online volunteerism. Social innovations are distinguished by a focus on “the process of innovation, how innovation and change take shape… and center on new work and new forms of cooperation, especially on those that work towards the attainment of a sustainable society” (Wikipedia). The Center for Social Innovation reports that, “Social innovation refers to the creation, development, adoption, and integration of new and renewed concepts, systems, and practices that put people and planet first.” Social innovations are thought to cut across the traditional boundaries separating nonprofits, government, and for-profit businesses. SIs are also considered to be distinct from conventional social programs.
The rise of social innovations presents new challenges to those who seek to evaluate (and in some cases, those who seek to nurture) these initiatives. Social innovations often bring together unrelated agencies and organizations, and involve complex and changing social dynamics, roles, and relationships.
The volatile, ever-unfolding nature of many SIs — including their evolving outcomes, collaborations among different social sectors and organizations, and dynamic and volatile contexts of SIs —may present challenges to evaluators who are more familiar with traditional social programs. In their recent article, “Evaluating Social Innovations: Implications for Evaluation Design,” Kate Svennson, Barbara Szijarto, Peter Milley, and J Bradley Cousins, (American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2018 pp. 459-477) review the international literature on SI evaluation and summarize critical insights about the unique challenges associated with selecting evaluation designs for social innovations.
Svennson, et al. remind us that the design of every evaluation is driven by “…what questions will be answered by the evaluation, what data will be collected, how the data will be analyzed to answer the questions, and how resulting information will be used?” (See our previous blogposts “Approaching An Evaluation – Ten Issues to Consider” and “Questions Before Methods”).
The authors surveyed 28 peer reviewed empirical studies of SIs, with an eye to identifying commonly reported issues and conditions that influence the choice of SI evaluation design. Svennson, et al. report that the choice of evaluation design was most frequently influenced by:
- a “complexity perspective,” i.e., one that acknowledges the often messy, trial-and-error landscape of such initiatives,
- a focus on the desire for collective learning by evaluators and evaluands,
- the need for collaboration between evaluators and SIs, including the need for timely feedback from evaluators, and
- the need for accountability to evaluation funders, including funders’ preferences for evaluation methods and design.
Interestingly, Svennson, et al. find that, in the 28 studies they reviewed, there is little diversity in the types of evaluation designs selected by evaluators, and what they term a “lingering ambiguity” among evaluators about what constitutes a social innovation.
In the future, the authors tell us, evaluators of SIs will want to:
- be sensitive to the processual nature of SIs
- focus on capturing and facilitating feedback, especially after each iteration of an SI
- support productive collaboration, especially among often competing SI stakeholders
- incorporate multiple methods of reporting to meet the needs for various, often divergent, stakeholders
- help SI practitioners to clarify outcomes, especially as these evolve
- capture both intended and unexpected outcomes of SIs
“Evaluating Social Innovations: Implications for Evaluation Design,” Kate Svennson, Barbara Szijarto, Peter Milley, and J Bradley Cousins, American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2018.
For an critique of social innovation, see the “Criticism” section at Wikipedia
Philanthropy, most of us presume, is a good thing. Philanthropic foundations seek to make the world a better place. In the US, philanthropic foundations have played an important role in funding, designing and “testing” a variety of programs and initiatives that seek to solve the most intransigent social problems of American society, from homelessness and education reform, to health care and access to the arts. As of 2015, there were over 86,000 foundations in the US alone, with total assets of $890,061,214,247. (See http://data.foundationcenter.org/ )
In their recent article, “The Trouble with Charitable Billionaires,” in the May 28, 2018, Guardian, Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom argue that although philanthropy appears to be a socially valuable activity, the recent emergence of “philanthrocapitalism” such as that conducted by Mark Zukerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates, and others, in fact, shifts decision-making power about social change from the public to a stratum of wealthy donors, whose vision for social change is not always innocent or desirable. “Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class.”
Rhodes and Bloom write that, since the 1990s, there has emerged a cohort of billionaires who appear genuinely committed to addressing persistent and seemingly intractable social problems, and who are now investing literally billions of dollars in efforts to tackle these problems. They note that it would seem that many of the world’s richest people simply want to give their money away to good causes, and have thus created a “golden age of philanthropy.” The authors, however, caution that “The golden age of philanthropy is not just about benefits that accrue to individual givers. More broadly, such philanthropy serves to legitimize capitalism, as well as to extend it further and further into all domains of social, cultural and political activity.” Furthermore, “Philanthrocapitalism” they say, “takes the application of management discourses and practices from business corporations and adapts them to charitable work. The focus is on entrepreneurship, market-based approaches and performance metrics…(and these) result, at a practical level, in a philanthropy that is undertaken by CEOs in a manner similar to how they run businesses.”
Rhodes and Bloom problematize this new era of corporate social responsibility and philanthrocapitalism. “Philanthrocapitalism is commonly presented as the social justice component of an otherwise amoral global free market. At best, corporate charity is a type of voluntary tax paid by the 1% for their role in creating such an economically deprived and unequal world.” Additionally, “Philanthrocapitalism is about much more than the simple act of generosity it pretends to be, instead involving the inculcation of neoliberal values personified by the billionaire CEOs who have led its charge. Philanthropy is recast in the same terms in which a CEO would consider a business venture. Charitable giving is translated into a business model that employs market-based solutions characterized by efficiency and quantified costs and benefits. Ultimately, the authors contend, “…we find a new form of corporate rule, refashioning another dimension of human endeavor (i.e. philanthropy) in its own interests. Such is a society where CEOs are no longer content to do business; they must control public goods as well. In the end, while the Giving Pledge’s website (a philanthropy campaign initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2010 which targets billionaires around the world, encouraging them to give away the majority of their wealth) may feature more and more smiling faces of smug-looking CEOs, the real story is of a world characterized by gross inequality that is getting worse year by year.”
Essentially Rhodes and Bloom question the influence of private fortunes on public issues. While foundations may have the best of intentions, they mobilize private money to address privately defined public issues. This is hardly a new development. Rhodes and Bloom however, question whether the more recent importation of business methods, measures, and beliefs are either the best, or the most democratic, way to address deep systemic issues. Their view is that for the many “wounds” experienced by contemporary society, philanthrocapitalism may be merely a self-serving “band-aid.”
“The Trouble with Charitable Billionaires,” Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom, The Guardian
“How Liberal Nonprofits Are Failing Those They’re Supposed to Protect,” William C. Anderson, Verso Blog, October 6, 2017
American Foundations: Roles and Contributions, by Helmut K. Anheier (Editor), David C. Hammack (Editor), The Brookings Institution, 2010
The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty, Erica Kohl-Arenas, University of California Press, 2016