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Posts tagged ‘Adin Miller’

Philanthropy’s Role in Social Innovation: An Interview with Adin Miller

Nell Edginton

Nell Edgington, principal of Social Velocity, interviews our own Adin Miller, Senior Director of Community Impact and Innovations on the importance of connecting traditional philanthropy to the emerging world of impact investing.

Nell: You have always been on the funding side of social change. How do you think philanthropy must evolve in order to add to, instead of detract from, the new energy around social innovation?

Adin Miller

Adin: I actually believe the philanthropic sector is embracing social innovation, although at a slower rate than we expected. Our modern version of philanthropy, which traces its roots back to the formation of private foundations and federated systems over 100 years ago, has had many examples of supporting innovation and taking risk. However, I believe the growth and demand for metrics, data, and measures of success and impact may have unintentionally tamped down the sector’s willingness to take risk through innovation.

The Bay Area community is identified with entrepreneurship and innovation. That same ethos is also evident within the nonprofit sector (for example, see The Joshua Venture’s profile of it’s 2012 applicant pool (PDF)). The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund has embraced this ethos by providing funding to support social innovation in new and established organizations. I have also advocated for a broader embracing of innovations in how we fund in order to further support new approaches.

By embracing the energy around social innovation, I can engage new donors in our efforts while also providing the means to support an evolving ecosystem of organizations that make up our local Jewish community. In some sense, I believe philanthropy’s resistance to the new energy around social innovation seems misplaced. Harnessing that energy can be an effective tool in a comprehensive strategic philanthropic approach.

Nell: You are fairly passionate about connecting traditional philanthropy to the emerging world of impact investing. Why is it critical to bring the two worlds together?

Adin: I believe our current societal challenges and the continued shift by government away from social, safety net, and education services requires that philanthropy look beyond the confines of simply applying a 5% spend rate on a private foundation’s net investment assets. The general principle of impact investing encourages philanthropy to make better use of the other 95% of assets it manages. Whether structured through Mission-Related Investments, Program-Related Investments, or emerging fields such as social impact bonds, philanthropy has the opportunity to put more of its resources into action to support social change efforts and grow them in scale.

Community foundations and federated systems (such as my employer, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund), in my opinion, have the greater opportunity to embrace impact investing. They directly engage individuals through donor-advised vehicles, supporting foundations, or annual fundraising appeals, and have the unique opportunity to also encourage individual social impact investing that compliments and aligns with their individual charitable giving and philanthropic behavior. The market opportunity is big and when it’s finally realized, will have a much bigger disruptive impact on how philanthropy functions and supports social change.

Nell: In your current role at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund part of your charge is “to define and develop metrics to document impact.” Determining social impact is such a holy grail in the social change sector. How do you go about defining and measuring impact in your work?

Adin: As an institution, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund is looking to better understand and track its ability to affect social change. The need for and supply of data have been hallmarks of the current disruptive state of philanthropy. But, I’m also cognizant that we cannot overwhelm our grantees with outsized and overwhelming data requests. As such, we’re methodically working with our funded organizations and community donors to identify the key data points we should be collectively tracking to measure effectiveness and impact.

For our large-scale initiatives – such as our Reducing Barriers and Increasing Access to Participation in Jewish Life initiative – we have adopted a Collective Impact approach and the specific intention to work with partner organizations and community members to define shared goals and intended impact. We have also positioned our new grantees to set aside funding for smaller-scale efforts to assess and measure their effectiveness. I expect that my team and I will continue to work with grantees and partners to craft the right recipe to allow us to effectively measure impact while also emphasizing the impact may take years to become evident.

Nell: You have been involved with social change both as a staff member at funding institutions and as principal of your own consulting firm. What role do you think consultants play in the social change ecosystem?

Adin: Consultants have the opportunity to bring their wider field of vision, built through multiple and diverse interactions with clients, into play. In some respect, consultants serve as ambassadors of thought and action that can bridge institutions in the social change ecosystem. When I managed my own consulting firm I had the privilege of learning about crosscutting issues and approaches that I could then bring into my interactions with clients. There is a tremendous amount of quiet coaching and mentorship that happens as a consultant and that’s the entry point by which I could advise as well as gently push clients to consider additional paths to achieve their missions and goals.

Nell: Before moving from consulting to the JCFEF you were active with your Working In White Space blog, but you haven’t been as active on the blog recently. What role do you think social media plays in social change and how do you stay engaged with it from within an organization?

Adin: Oh, I very much miss my blog. Writing is undeniably a muscle that requires constant use and dedication, and my own ability to do so took a dramatic hit over the past 12 months. Nevertheless, I believe in the power of social media and blogging to share experiences, push ideas along, and test out theories. In my current work, I’ve encouraged my team to find their own voices and become engaged in social media and blogging. The opportunity to exchange ideas in public is a key element of how philanthropy professionals can further extend the effectiveness of their efforts while also raising the transparency quotient so needed in the sector.

On a personal level, I still try to maintain an active profile in social media (mostly Twitter – I’m @adincmiller – but Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook as well) where I push along interesting content. I follow about 80 different philanthropy, social media, and impact investing RSS feeds that give me a great window into current debates and trending issues. And I continue to coach and push for greater communication through social media platforms.

Adin is the Senior Director of Community Impact and Innovations at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (JCF) in San Francisco. In this role, Adin develops and implements new strategies, initiatives, programs, research, collaboration and processes to bring about change and impact in accordance with the organization’s mission, goals and priorities. His work focuses on maximizing the JCF’s efforts to generate measurable impact and progress on the community level, defining and developing metrics to document impact, and increasing the visibility of the organization.

An Interview with an Impact Grants Initiative Grant Maker

The Impact Grants Initiative (IGI) employs a high engagement and empowerment approach to grantmaking modeled on social venture philanthropy. We launched the IGI last year as a way to provide donor-participants with a “hands-on” way to make a real difference in our community by making high impact grants that focus on a pressing community need. Through the IGI approach we have provided innovative Jewish programs within traditional organizations or new nonprofits with the multi-year funding needed to be successful, as well as the type of nonfinancial support that helps them thrive. And ultimately, the grants awarded as a result of this new model help build a more vibrant, connected and enduring Jewish community. In fact, the IGI approach has proved so successful that we have launched another grant round for engaging young adults, another to engage our young Russian community, and incorporated it into our current Regional Impact effort in the South and North Peninsula, and will soon launch one focused on Israel. We spoke with Lois Wander, a participant from the first grant round to get her feedback on her experience:

Lois Wander, a first round IGI Initiative committee member

How has being part of the first IGI grant round changed how you approach philanthropy?

“I really appreciate the new approach to treat the grantees as ‘investments,’ a la the venture capitalist model. It allowed us to select grantees that were innovative and new, yet with a solid business plan to help mitigate risk. A large focus of our criteria was to support organizations that were scalable and serving a current need. I think we achieved that with our grantees.”

How have you been involved with the grantee since they received the grant? What has that experience been like for you?

“Yes, I along with Brett Goldstein serve as the liaisons for G-dCast, led by Sarah Lefton. Sarah is a real dynamic leader, with tons of enthusiasm and skills. We’ve met with her several times the past year to hear her progress, provide suggestions and resources. We’re excited to follow her progress.”

Do you think the IGI is a good approach for a more hands-on approach to grantmaking?

“Absolutely! I really enjoyed the process of designing the application and goals and assessing the applications. I always appreciate hearing other people’s opinions and the lively discussion that inevitably ensues when strong minded, passionate people come together. “

What about as a way to involve young adults with the Federation?

“I think it’s a great way to get young adults involved with the Federation. You learn a lot about philanthropy, including new approaches, and get to know some great people in the process.”

Year-one reveals promising results

The Impact Grants Initiative committee met to review the seven grantees’ progress to date and their second year plans. On the whole, the grantees have made tremendous strides in building their own capacity to engage more people in the Jewish community. For example, Kevah expanded its services from 250 to 420 participants, the Idelsohn Society engaged 25,000 visitors through its Tikva pop-up store, and the Russian Moishe House has attracted 745 participants through nearly 50 programs. Other organizations took a little longer to launch, but they expect to make great progress in their efforts by the end of 2012.

IGI reflects the Federation’s move towards more results-oriented grantmaking and better positions the organization to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. This effort is funded by a $1,000,000 allocation from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, which will be distributed over a three-year period.

For more information on IGI: please contact Adin C. Miller, Senior Director of Community Impact and Innovations.

Can an Evidence-Based Approach Save Philanthropy?

By Adin Miller, Senior Director of Community Impact and Innovations

Adin Miller

Adin Miller

One of the most fascinating debates taking place currently within the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors reflects the tension inherent in embracing evidence-based approaches. Within this debate, the two sectors have challenged the merits of and obsession with formal evaluation outcomes, metrics, and nonprofit effectiveness. For example, see this online discourse between Bill Schambra, a noted philanthropic critic, and Will Miller of The Wallace Foundation in Nonprofit Quarterly.

The debate served as the primary backdrop for a wide ranging discussion touching on issues such as scaling up organizations, funding evidence-based approaches, collecting, tracking and analyzing metrics, and overhead. Last week, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (JCF) brought together a diverse group of over 100 philanthropists, foundations, and nonprofits to explore this subject in more depth. It framed the discussion by screening Saving Philanthropy, a PBS-featured documentary that explores how nonprofits and funders can increase their effectiveness. The program then moved into a discussion with Daniel Lurie of Tipping Point Community, Carla Javits of REDF, Heather McLeod Grant of the Monitor Institute, and myself representing the JCF.

Here are some closing thoughts from the participants:

The panel as a whole agreed on the value of focusing on metrics and outcomes in aligning resources with effective nonprofits. That conclusion fundamentally supports the concept that a funder needs to create the largest possible disproportionate impact for the investment. In no small measure, when a funder supports effective evidence-based programs, it can both signal to and attract funding and power from other institutions.

The panel also agreed that effective nonprofits have to deliver on their business models. As such, the organizations need to embrace a data-driven culture and systems that allow for data capture and analysis (interestingly, the nonprofit representatives in the room also called for funders to be more transparent with their data and findings). Funders, conversely, need to answer the demand by nonprofits for the capacity building resources needed to invest in “back of the house” items such as new database systems. This led the panel to call for an increase in awarding operating grants and the continued need to combat grantmaking based on overhead issues.

Embracing a data-driven culture, however, does not mandate that nonprofits collect and assess a tremendous volume of inputs. Instead, the panel recommended that nonprofits smartly pick a limited number of metrics to measure its performance and build upon that approach.

A few other highlights from the discussion:

  • Like many financial institutions, the panel predicted more mergers and acquisitions over the next ten years, especially among large national charities.
  • The future of philanthropic organizations will bring more collaboration, information sharing and groupthink among nonprofits as they try to tackle widespread issues together for better results.
  • It’s easy for funders to frame this debate only in the context of grantmaking. But funders should continue to embrace and make available other resources at their disposal such as technical assistance and collaborations.

The metrics debate will continue to highlight both the benefits and pitfalls of evidence-based grantmaking. In that context, the JCF will continue to strive to find a balanced approach to our work. We will need to both embrace a focus on evidence-based approaches, but also support innovation and emerging ideas in the absence of concrete metrics. How we do that will also inform the philanthropic sector and federation system.

Saving Philanthropy: Host and Panelist Recap

JCF brought together a diverse group of over 100 philanthropists, foundations, and nonprofits for a private screening of Saving Philanthropy, a PBS-featured documentary that explores how nonprofits and funders can increase their effectiveness and create real, lasting change in an era of fiscal austerity and unprecedented donor choice. The evening provided a crucial opportunity for collaboration, networking, and candid and insightful conversation about results-driven philanthropy in the 21st century.

Following the event, Jennifer Gorovitz and several of the panelists weighed in on some of the key points from the evening’s discussion. For more videos, please visit us on YouTube.

CEO, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

Senior Director of Impact and Innovations, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

Founder and CEO, Tipping Point

Senior Consultant, The Monitor Institute

Saving Philanthropy Filmmaker, Founder and Director, FSP Creative Advocacy

“We believe the philanthropists, foundations, and the nonprofits themselves need to come together more often to talk about their work. The work on the ground will only get better if everyone can partner, collaborate, and have honest and candid discussions about what’s working, what’s not working, and what we can do differently.”
- Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

A new model for impact giving

The evolution of philanthropy – with its continued embracement of metrics, outcome measurements and impact, and data – has also seen a growing emphasis on developing new ways to engage donors. Philanthropic organizations, especially those in intermediary roles, are redefining their relationships with donors. Many of them recognize the growing number of active and engaged donors who want to do more than just write a check; they are looking for opportunities to make an impact in a more dimensional way and want more intensive engagement opportunities. To meet that need, some organizations are providing donors with more guidance and resources to make better informed charitable giving decisions, or even offering opportunities to engage in impact investing.

This trend has made its way into the federation system. Per the Jewish Federations of North America, the federation system represents 157 Jewish federations and 400 network communities, and raises and distributes more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. That places it “collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent.” Given its immense scope, there is tremendous potential to provide a wider vision of how to generate impact, and model the ability to evolve, adapt, and support new opportunities.

Impact Grants Initiative of the Jewish Community Federation

The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (JCF) has developed a new approach to provide donors with the level of engagement many of them seek, and at the same time, support local innovations. This new approach just entered its public stage and will serve as a learning model for the federation system. Based on the concepts of venture philanthropy and giving circles, the JCF designed a new $1M initiative to fund innovative local approaches engaging adults between 21 and 45 years in Jewish life. Through this initiative, the JCF aims to identify high performing nonprofits with high potential ideas that can significantly impact the local Jewish community.

The work on this new model began in the summer of 2010 and formally launched in the fall when the JCF convened a group of 30 younger donors and lay leaders to serve as the grantmaking body for the initiative. Together, the group learned more about the subject area for the initiative from other funders, refined the funding priorities, and designed the parameters for the proposal guidelines. On January 28, it will post its Request for Proposals and guidelines on its website.

Learn how to apply for an Impact Grant. Visit

Under this model, the group of donors has adopted an engaged grantmaking approach that taps into lessons learned from social venture philanthropy. The donors will continue to be engaged through a more intensive due diligence process coupled with shorter timelines to gather information. The grants will be determined through consensus decision-making with staff input. And in some instances, members of the donor group will continue to work directly with the grantees over the course of the three-year initiative.

The initiative represents a new model for the JCF and the federation system as a whole. While four other federations have attempted venture philanthropy style approaches, they have met with modest success. And unlike those earlier efforts, which were very much dependent on generating the funds to distribute from the participating donors as in traditional giving circle models, the JCF’s Endowment Fund intentionally provided the $1M in seed funding for its donor group to grant out. This approach reflects and supports the JCF’s commitment to supporting innovative ideas in the local community while also providing increased opportunities for donors to engage in proactive, outcome-focused grantmaking.

Ultimately, the true impact of the new model won’t be known for several years. However, the JCF’s multi-faceted goals of supporting local innovation, generating greater impact within the community, and providing donors with more meaningful opportunities to engage in philanthropic efforts through this new model will undoubtedly provide compelling lessons to the federation system at large and other philanthropic intermediary organizations.

Adin C. Miller serves as Director of Community Impact and writes about philanthropy on his personal blog Working In White Space. You can also follow him on Twitter.


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