Today, more than at any time in recent memory, America's nonprofits are struggling to deliver services in an environment in which demand for those services exceeds the resources and ability of nonprofits to deliver them. At the same time, funders of all types are faced with increased expectations and pressure to identify and fund solutions to a range of seemingly intractable problems. As a result, "more with less" is becoming an all-too-familiar refrain in the nonprofit sector.
The sector has responded to this challenge in a variety of creative ways. One of the most promising responses has been an increased focus by grantors and grantees alike on organizational capacity and effectiveness. Led by, among others, the California-based David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the movement to define and address organizational capacity issues in a rigorous, disciplined fashion has, since the mid-1990s, steadily gained momentum and today represents one of the most exciting developments in the field of philanthropy.
To get a better sense of where things stand and where they are headed, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Barbara Kibbe, director of the Organizational Effectiveness and Philanthropy (OEP) Program at the Packard Foundation, in January to discuss the difference between building the capacity of organizations and improving their effectiveness, the challenges inherent in measuring organizational effectiveness, and the upcoming conference being held by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, a group of funders dedicated to promoting learning about and encouraging dialogue around the topic of organizational effectiveness.
Kibbe joined the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 1996 as a program officer responsible for making grants to improve the management and governance of the foundation's grantees. She was promoted to the role of program director for Organizational Effectiveness in 1998 and became the director of the merged Organizational Effectiveness and Philanthropy Program in 2000.
Prior to joining the Packard Foundation, Kibbe was a consultant to nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, providing program design, planning, and evaluation services. She is the co-author of two books — Succeeding with Consultants and Grantmaking Basics — and has a J.D. degree from Brooklyn Law School.
Philanthropy News Digest: Tell us about your background. What did you do before you joined the Packard Foundation?
Barbara Kibbe: My undergraduate degree is in fine arts — I studied painting and printmaking. I loved it but worried some about how I was going to make a living so I went to law school. After law school, I worked for a small firm in Manhattan for a little while but was most interested in intellectual property law and how art and artists were — or were not — protected by the legal structure. A year or so after I started practicing law I was offered a job out here in San Francisco by a group called Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts, and I became their executive director. That was in 1978, and I was all of 25 years old. I did that for three years and really enjoyed it, but I got burned out. At that age, you don't know when enough is enough. I worked seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day; there was always another problem that had to be solved.
So I took a little time off after that to reflect on my life, and eventually I decided that I wanted to work further upstream. When you're lawyering, you're usually dealing with people and their problems and their relationships at a point when it's too late to make things better. So I started to ask myself, "Well, what do I care most about in the world?" And, of course, it was art, culture, and a rich intellectual quality of life. Organizations — what makes them work and what makes them fail — were also fascinating to me. So I started doing consulting work, first working with the groups I knew best — arts organizations — and then branching out into community housing groups and museums and ... are you bored yet?
PND: Not at all.
BK: All right. So I hooked up with some other consultants who knew more about social science than I did, and we started a firm. And we grew the firm to, I don't know, fifteen or twenty people and several million dollars in annual revenues. We did a bit of everything — facilitation, consulting, research, evaluation — and worked with a wide range of clients in the public and nonprofit sectors. Then I got married, had a baby, decided that the stress of running a firm was something I didn't really need, and went back to being a solo practitioner after my daughter was born.
One of the projects I took on — I think it was in 1994 — was to do an assessment here at the Packard Foundation of what was then called the Management Assistance Program. I was hired as an external evaluator and did interviews and focus groups with our grantees, leaders in the field, and people here at Packard, all of which led to a report and some recommendations about the value of grants in building organizational and management strength. Basically, I told the foundation that they had a diamond in the rough. It was a wonderful program valued by everyone who was touched by it. As long as the foundation was growing, I thought they ought to grow the program to serve the foundation's expanded community of grantees.
Shortly after the report was submitted, Dave Packard died, and it soon became apparent that he had bequeathed all of his holdings in Hewlett Packard to the foundation — a gift that would make the foundation much bigger in short order. Senior management here then decided they would take at least some of my recommendations, and they posted a job description. And I applied and was eventually offered the job. Even though I loved consulting, I decided that, since I had made the recommendations, I ought to try to translate them into a robust program.
So I joined the foundation in '96 with the expectation that I would design a program, run it for three years, and then go back to consulting. But I'm still here, more than five years later. My job keeps changing, and I keep resetting the clock because I'm enjoying it so much and having so much fun watching the foundation evolve and the program grow.
PND: Can you describe what the program was like when you joined the foundation?
|"...A really effective organization is about more than just good management: You can have a very tidy organization that isn't very effective...."|
BK: It was very small. The budget in '96 was a million dollars, and most of the grants were small grants made to local nonprofits to help them with board development or strategic planning or marketing studies. In my first year here, we changed the program's name to Organizational Effectiveness, for two reasons. The first was that "management assistance" seemed too narrow. A really effective organization is about more than just good management: You can have a very tidy organization that isn't very effective. We wanted to have a bigger vision for it, beyond management, that included a combination of things like management, governance, leadership, vision, clarity of mission, goals, good use of resources, an understanding of outcomes and measurements. We also thought that "management assistance" sounded a little bit patronizing, that foundations are not always close enough to the ground to understand deeply what their nonprofit grantees are going through. We didn't want our program to be about the "assistance" we provide; we wanted it to be about learning and continuous improvement for the organizations.
Lastly, we wanted to transmit the message that we have a strength-based approach. We're not looking for sick organizations we can doctor. We're looking for organizations that are on a path of continuous improvement, that are eager learners, and that, in an ongoing way, are motivated to use their resources the best way they can for the biggest impact.
PND: How did Grantmakers for Effective Organizations come out of your work for the foundation?
BK: There were a few funders interested in management assistance or technical assistance, as it was called in the 1980s — maybe ten of them around the country — and when I joined Packard I was only vaguely aware of their work. So one of the first things I did when I took the job was a Lexus search, with the help of our library, for foundation grant descriptions that had the word "management" or "organization" or anything that indicated they had made even a single grant that related to management capacity. Then I wrote a letter to about one hundred and sixty funders saying, "I don't know if this is an area of focus for you, but I thought maybe you'd be interested. It seems you've made at least one grant in this area, and I'd love to learn more about what you're doing." And I got forty or fifty calls and letters back, which eventually led to our decision to host a breakfast roundtable on the subject at the Council on Foundations' annual conference later that year. I think it was 1997.
Well, so many people showed up, we needed two tables. But it gave us all a chance to talk about the importance of these issues and the need to put more focus on them, and by the end of the breakfast we agreed that we should try to start an affinity group. A number of people said, "You know, Barbara, you've got resources at Packard. Why don't you take the next step and coordinate this effort?" I agreed and invited colleagues at the Irvine and Kauffman foundations to co-sponsor an application to the Council on Foundations for affinity group status with the Council. Incidentally, it was Janine Lee at the Kauffman Foundation who came up with our great name. And that's how GEO was launched.
PND: What's the mission of GEO today?
BK: It relates to being a positive, constructive force for helping funders to embrace organizational effectiveness and capacity-building. The exact words, which you can find on the GEO Web site. are: "Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, an affinity group of the Council on Foundations, is dedicated to promoting learning and encouraging dialogue among funders committed to the field of organizational effectiveness." We have two core goals: One, to promote and advocate for the use of philanthropic resources to advance nonprofit organizational effectiveness; and two, to accelerate the development, dissemination, and application of knowledge about nonprofit organizational effectiveness practices by and for philanthropy and nonprofits.
PND: How many members do you have?
BK: Over four hundred and twenty members at present, representing more than three hundred individual funding organizations. But the number keeps growing.
PND: Is membership restricted to grantmaking organizations?
BK: Well, it is a funder affinity group, so that's the basic criterion. But we define it broadly and include associations of grantmakers, as well as some fundraising organizations that do re-granting in the field of OE [organizational effectiveness] and capacity building. We also have a stated value about collaboration and partnership with capacity-building experts in the field that may not be funders. Because our agenda is about learning and catalyzing this work, we're not just about talking to ourselves, let's put it that way.
PND: Earlier, you alluded to some of the characteristics of effective organizations. How does GEO define organizational effectiveness?
BK: Coming up with a definition for OE is hard. We all know of organizations that are marvelously effective but may not manage every aspect of their organization according to the textbook. Therefore, we don't equate efficiency and effectiveness. You can be very efficient, just like you can have a very tidy closet, and it won't necessarily improve the quality of your life and what you're contributing to the world. It's important to be efficient, but efficiency isn't the Holy Grail. Effectiveness is about impact and the way you help to change the world in a positive way. So at GEO we define OE as the ability of an organization to fulfill its mission through a balance of sound management, strong governance, and a persistent rededication to achieving results. It isn't many words but it's really very broad and — some would argue — in need of further definition.
PND: Is improving the effectiveness of an organization and building the capacity of an organization the same thing?
BK: You know, I think most of us use the terms almost interchangeably. But there are some things, in my view, that can build the capacity of an organization but could also be removed from or secondary to the effectiveness of that organization. For example, a good, modern physical plant almost always enhances the capacity of an organization. But does it increase the effectiveness of the organization per se? No. If you're talking about something contributing to organizational effectiveness, you might make a closer link to the way the organization uses its resources, rather than just saying that they have resources. But again, I think most people use the terms interchangeably.
PND: Capacity building is a term that's been used quite a bit in the last few years by venture philanthropists. Does the work of GEO overlap in any way with the work of venture philanthropists?
BK: Well, venture philanthropy isn't exactly a mature field with a lot of standards. But it is a fascinating exploration of the respective roles of grantmakers and grantees, and it has taught us a lot in the past few years. We have a goodly number of self-identified venture philanthropists in the ranks and even on the board of GEO. Paul Shoemaker, one of the founders and the executive director of Social Venture Partners in Seattle, is on our steering committee, for example. And because our mission is about learning and catalyzing positive change for the sector, we embrace all comers and love the dialogues they spark. But we also know that there are probably some approaches to building capacity and effectiveness that are better than others, and we're trying to learn and do research so that we'll be able to tell the field objectively about the relative importance of those various approaches.
PND: One of the things that strikes me about many of the conversations around the subject of venture philanthropy is their focus on scale, the idea that good nonprofit work should scale and that the objective of any nonprofit should be to achieve maximum social impact, not just to have social impact. Does that kind of attitude inform your work with GEO and at Packard?
BK: Let me just speak for myself. My view is that nonprofit organizations — and I include funders in this — have always endeavored to get the maximum leverage out of the resources at our disposal. That means that we haven't been content with just doing good. We always should be looking at how we can do better with what we have to work with. In my mind, that does not necessarily equate to scale in terms of size. I think there are some small, highly effective community-based organizations that are always striving to do better but are not striving to be big. They may also be doing some things for a community that a larger organization simply could not. So I think there may be a correlation between size and impact in some cases, but the relationship is not a causal one. By that I mean that size does not, per se, equal impact.
PND: And if a small nonprofit organization with a site-specific program told you that it didn't need to build its capacity, how would you respond?
BK: I would not automatically believe or disbelieve them, but I would be inclined to ask a few questions to try to learn if their vision was coherent, if their activities were aligned with their vision, if they were in a meaningful dialogue with their community, if the people involved had all of the skills needed for the work to succeed, if they were aware of relevant research and best practices, and if they were thinking clearly about how their community — and therefore their mission — might need to change. In other words, I would try to assess whether there was a need for capacity-building that was not yet perceived by the organization's leaders; but I would not immediately judge or give advice. It is a rare funder who can, or should, say they know exactly what is right for a grantee — especially since we spend relatively little time interacting with our grantees and almost no time in their shoes.
PND: Historically speaking, do you think funders have been reluctant to fund organizational effectiveness and/or capacity building?
BK: I think they may have been ten or fifteen years ago, and I think some still question it. You know, we all like the idea of supporting a program directly and seeing, for example, how more of our environmental resources can be protected, or counting how many kids improved their reading skills. But I think over the last decade or so there has been a growing understanding that a strong program needs a strong organization to ground it and support it in doing its work. One of my mentors, Cole Wilbur, who was the president here at Packard until a couple of years ago, said that he thought the money we spend on OE is, dollar for dollar, the best money we spend. It's a little bit like insurance that protects the programmatic investment and helps to insure that it's going to be used maximally. Cole would say that if you do program funding or project funding without thinking about the organization, you'll wind up with something that has strong arms and a weak body. It makes the program or project more vulnerable if it doesn't have a home in a strong organization.
PND: What about the other side of the equation. Would you agree that nonprofits in general neglect capacity in favor of program?
|"...The for-profit sector understands much more deeply that the building of capacity and skills and systems is not optional...."|
BK: My experience is that nonprofit leaders are highly motivated to do the best they can do. But they're often limited by resources and sometimes by knowledge. Nevertheless, my experience is that if they can get the resources to address issues that relate to management or systems or structures, they're eager to tackle it. It's hard money to get in the sense that there's proportionately more money available for program than there is for these specialized kinds of efforts. So I think it's more that nonprofit leaders feel torn about "siphoning" money from programs to do a planning process or staff development. They understand the importance of having a well-trained, motivated staff and the need to focus on human resources, and if they can find money earmarked for that, they're delighted to do it. But they don't always have the resources to do it. The for-profit sector understands much more deeply that the building of capacity and skills and systems is not optional.
PND: In your view, what are the obstacles and/or challenges nonprofits face on the road to becoming effective organizations? Obviously, lack of resources is one.
BK: Well, sure. If a nonprofit only has a limited amount of money — and they almost always have less money than they need — it has to be careful how it spends that money. That often means that nonprofits can't afford access to the best training and the best consulting, and that they frequently have to wear more than one hat.
I think another obstacle — and again, this is changing in a positive way, so I don't want to say that the news is all bad — is that most people came to be directors and executives of nonprofit organizations through the program side. That's wonderful, because the commitment runs deep and the technical skills are there. But until a decade or so ago, they rarely had specific training and preparation for the management challenges they would face in the job. Today, in contrast, we have a plethora of fine graduate programs in nonprofit management. There are some ninety-odd university-based programs, plus all sorts of training programs that are not degree-related, so it's much easier to get that kind of training. But still, I think many nonprofit executives are challenged by the fact that they know their field but don't always know enough about managing finances, leading people, building constituencies, and so on.
PND: Do we, as a sector, have the tools we need to measure and evaluate organizational effectiveness?
BK: That's a great question. I was looking for an article before you called that addresses just that. It's called "Measuring the Unmeasurable," and I think it was published a few years ago in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Basically, it said that measuring capacity had gone through its own developmental process. At first, we all measured capacity around goal attainment — we said an organization was effective if it set goals and attained those goals. Then other people came along and started to ask whether that was nuanced enough. Maybe, they suggested, the effectiveness of an organization should be judged based on what its constituency thinks. So a new movement was started where people said, "Okay, it's not enough to attain your goals; the constituencies of the organization have to actually agree that the organization is delivering value in order for us to judge it to be effective." And that was followed by a third wave that was even more complex and nuanced.
The point is, we're not finished figuring out how to measure it. We all want to have more appropriate measures, and we're looking to a whole host of brilliant people to help us figure it out. Paul Light is one of those people. He wrote a book a few years ago called Sustaining Innovation. It's a series of very rigorous case studies of nonprofit and public agencies that seem to have the capacity to innovate again and again and again. And one of the things he emphasized in the book is that, in each case, rigorous management was a key component of the organization's ability to innovate. Because GEO really feels the need to contribute to the evolving understanding of the field and to help answer our colleagues' questions so that they can align their work accordingly, we commissioned Paul to do some research to help us define organizational effectiveness. By interviewing and surveying two hundred and fifty thought leaders and two hundred and fifty different nonprofit organizations that were identified as exemplary by the same thought leaders, he came up with an extensive list of attributes. And one of the conclusions he drew is that rigorous management, while essential, is not sufficient in and of itself. You can talk about the need to have good financial management, a board that knows what it's doing, goals that are measurable, and all the rest of it. But you also need passion, mission, and a vision. It's too easy to say, "Here's a checklist. If the organization has these things, it's healthy and effective." That misses the point. An organization, like an organism, is a dynamic thing. Our personal health is not a static condition. Neither is the health and effectiveness of an institution. It requires constant attention and upkeep. To reduce it to a checklist would be to deny the complexity of the form.
So I think our job — and I've been known to say this on more than one occasion — is to complicate people's thinking about this. By the same token, I don't want to paralyze people. I want people to embrace complexity in a disciplined way, and I'm delighted by the depth of the dialogue going on right now that relates to measuring the effectiveness of organizations and how we learn to better promote those characteristics that enhance effectiveness.
PND: Is all this complicated by the fact that, in the nonprofit sector, most organizations are not bottom-line driven and many activities can't be quantified?
|"...At Packard, our organizational effectiveness program is built on a core assumption: We believe that a well-managed and well-governed organization is more likely to achieve its program goals...."|
BK: Yes. But that doesn't mean you back away from it, or you don't try to ask and answer hard questions. We should all try to get closer to understanding what the impact of the work is. Here at Packard, we tend to say that our organizational effectiveness program is built on a core assumption: We believe that a well-managed and well-governed organization is more likely to achieve its program goals. It just makes sense. We've all seen organizations that are poorly managed, or that are embroiled in an internal conflict where the board isn't doing its job, causing it to fail even though its mission is a good one. So what we're trying to do here, in a sense, is to complement the other resources available to an organization and help it focus appropriately on building management, skill, strategies, systems, and structures. Because we believe that those are essential components of impact.
PND: Okay, I'm going to put you on the spot. What are the top three lessons you've learned about building organizational effectiveness while you've been at Packard?
BK: I've been thinking about that very thing for years. I have a list of ten things, and I'm going to give you all of them, because I honestly don't know how I would edit it down. So here goes:
One: Management challenges are normal and ongoing for all organizations. Management challenges emerge, not because an organization is weak or poorly run, but as a result of healthy growth, risk taking, and adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. A commitment to addressing these challenges is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Two: Organizational effectiveness grantmakers should insist on thoughtfulness as grantees develop their OE projects, but not on what or how grantees should think. There are many paths to competency and many kinds of capacity. Understandably, grantseekers will be less committed to our priorities than their own. And grantseekers know their business better than we ever will.
Three: You will get more leverage out of coaching a grantee on how to select a consultant than from choosing the "best" consultant for the grantee. In fact, the more decisions the grantseeker makes, the more committed they will be to the process and the project. There is, in fact, a power differential and even a gentle suggestion from a grantmaker will often be heard as a directive. Corollary: there is a relationship between the skills/experience/quality of the consultant or other technical assistance provider and the outcomes for the organization. This makes the consultant search and selection process a critical step for the organization attempting to enhance its organizational effectiveness.
Four: There is no quick fix and there is no permanent fix, either. Effectiveness requires ongoing attention because change is constant. Since the context for the work is always changing, the organization must change as well.
Five: Renewed, even increased, commitment in times of organizational change can pay big dividends. Our success is almost entirely dependent upon the success of our grantees. We share a vision and goals with our grantees. The bumps they encounter along the way are opportunities to rethink, reposition, and reengineer. For example, it is counter-intuitive to rush in with extra funding when an organization loses its executive director. It's understandable that a funder would want to "wait and see" who the new executive director is before renewing a grant. But what about helping to ensure that the organization's search process is thoughtful and thorough? It may end up being the best money you invest. And saving a challenged organization is likely to be much less expensive than building a new one.
Six: Define the relationship and the process up front. Honesty in reporting and authenticity in the grantee/grantor relationship can either be enhanced or seriously damaged in connection with this work. Trust is not a static condition. For better or worse, there is a power differential in the relationship between funder and grantee. Maintaining productive and healthy relationship requires constant attention.
Seven: An internal champion for the capacity-building work is vital to the success of the project. Grantees have important, often urgent, work to do. Without a champion for the capacity-building work, it can easily be left on the back burner in favor of other, more immediate program-related priorities.
Eight: Organization-building takes longer and is harder than anyone thinks. We hear this over and over again from our grantees as they reflect back on their OE work. Holding an OE grantee to a tight timeline can actually inhibit learning and lead to posturing and lack of candor in reporting. At Packard, we reassure our grantees that we will extend a grant period if progress is being made and more time is needed.
Nine: A grant for planning, training, assessment, or evaluation will not help an organization in crisis. A true crisis — an earthquake, fire, flood, the unanticipated loss of a previously stable funding stream, or a sudden and complete breakdown between the executive director and board — is not the right time to implement a thoughtful, comprehensive OE process. An organizational effectiveness grant will not have the desired result when what is needed is a quick infusion of cash or immediate action to deal with an emergency. On the other hand, a crisis caused by poor governance, inadequate organizational systems or structures, misalignment between programs and mission, or any other significant organizational failing will never be effectively addressed by an infusion of cash.
And ten: Not enough is known about how to do grantmaking to promote organizational effectiveness or what it's true impact is. Grantmakers can contribute to the knowledge base and to the development of best practices by being thoughtful, reflecting on their work, and sharing lessons learned.
PND: Is there a type of nonprofit or an area within the sector that has a head start or is embracing the concepts of organizational effectiveness, measurement, and evaluation more enthusiastically than others?
BK: I don't know if anybody's got a head start. I think the dialogue is deep, ongoing, and everybody's in it. Some of the people who have interesting things to say about it are Paul Light, Paul Connelly and his colleagues at the Conservation Company, and Jim Abernathy at the Environmental Support Center, which actually went to the trouble of doing what they call a best-practices study in capacity building to try to figure out what the standards are for delivering capacity-building services and then to measure themselves against those benchmarks. All of this, I think, is evidence that the field is grappling with the issues in a constructive way, that we're not going to give up until we have more clarity. At the same time, all of these people, at least in part, believe that a well-managed organization is better prepared for the challenges it faces.
PND: You mentioned the professionalization of the field a bit earlier. Do you think the professionalization of nonprofit management will dispose leaders in the sector to look more favorably on capacity-building initiatives?
BK: I don't think we have to worry about that. I think the sector is already disposed toward it. I think the question is where the resources come from to support nonprofits in their work.
PND: Would a greater commitment to organizational effectiveness on the part of funders necessarily result in a smaller nonprofit sector in terms of the number of organizations that get funded? Or does the ever-growing pool of philanthropic dollars mean we can have more nonprofit organizations as well as more effective nonprofit organizations?
|"...One thing funders are not good at is helping nonprofit organizations to decide when they have concluded their work...."|
BK: I agree more with the latter, but I think the number of nonprofit organizations depends on lots of things. I don't have a bias toward mergers, consolidations, or making the sector smaller in terms of the number of organizations in it. I think there are some forces at work that favor consolidation and larger organizations. But I also think there always will be grassroots efforts that result in the creation of new organizations. I don't see any reason why that trend wouldn't continue. What I think we're not good at is helping nonprofit organizations to decide when they have concluded their work. In the for-profit sector, an organization that doesn't earn money consistently will be abandoned after a period of time. In the nonprofit sector, we don't do that kind of thing efficiently. So it probably means that there will be more organizations coming into existence than going out of existence, even though we may see an increase in dissolutions and mergers.
It's a complex ecosystem. I also think the number of organizations in the sector might be correlated but not causally related to the resources available at any given time.
PND: How so?
BK: I think what we'll see is the energy behind OE and capacity building go up and down for one set of reasons, and the number of organizations in the sector go up and down for an entirely different set of reasons.
PND: GEO has a big annual conference coming up at the beginning of March [March 6-8 in Washington, D.C.]. What's the focus of the conference?
BK: Actually, GEO only does a conference every two years. The reason is quite explicit. We have a conference when we have new knowledge to present to the community. That causes us to be very, very cautious about having big meetings, and any time we have a meeting we want to use it as a way to grapple with new knowledge that relates to capacity building and OE. So we do it every other year, and we always do it in partnership with other affinity groups. The first conference was a partnership between GEO and the Communications Network in Philanthropy and the Technology Affinity Group.
PND: I had the good fortune to attend that conference.
BK: Oh, you did?
PND: In Monterey. Yes, we're all still talking about it.
BK: That's great. We were really proud to be a part of it. The conference after that, two years later in Kansas City, was a collaboration between GEO and the Grantmakers Evaluation Network, and there we really dug into the question of how you evaluate capacity building. And this conference coming up is in partnership with the Forum of RAGs [Regional Associations of Grantmakers] and, once again, the Grantmakers Evaluation Network. This one will get deeper into the theme of capacity building for impact, connecting good management and sound governance with an organization's ability to achieve its mission. The subtitle is "The Future of Effectiveness for Nonprofits and Foundations." And for the first time we won't just talking about the effectiveness of our nonprofit grantees; we'll also be talking about the related question of grantmaker effectiveness. That's very exciting for me, because it shows that the GEO steering committee acknowledges that we need to walk the talk, that we can't promote effective behavior and practices among our grantees without also looking at ourselves and how we do or don't promote effectiveness through our behavior and our own internal management and program operations.
PND: I took a look at some of the sessions you have lined up and was struck by one in particular that hopes to address difficult questions like: Are foundations delivering an adequate return on their social investments? Are they effectively utilizing the knowledge base of the field? Are they supporting and promoting what works? How do you define effective philanthropy? Are those questions that can be answered over the course of three days, or are you just hoping to initiate a dialogue?
BK: I think we're looking to initiate a dialogue, but by the same token we don't want to just take up people's time. We've got a goal, and we hope that by the end of the conference, the conversations about funder effectiveness will lead us to a better-defined research agenda. There's a lot we need to learn. For example, the Urban Institute, with help from GEO, is leading a project designed to look at funder practices, and people will be able to hear about it at the conference. What we're going to try to do through surveys, focus groups, and interviews is describe for the first time ever what grantmakers themselves think are effective practices. The survey will ask funders to describe their practices in terms of their operations and their programs and their grantmaking, and we'll use the information to create a picture of how foundations do their work. After that's done, we can dig deeper and say, "Okay, what's the belief system? What are the values that underlie this? What more do we need to know in order to test whether these practices are effective at getting impact and whether they're aligned with an organization's mission? Are there segments of the foundation community that are further along in this agenda?" I think the point here is not to pass judgment, but to begin to gather the information that would allow us to move beyond dialogue and toward concrete action designed to enhance the effectiveness of funders as well as nonprofits.
PND: Do you plan to share the conversations, questions, and materials that come out of the conference with a wider audience?
BK: Oh, yes, absolutely. We always publish a downloadable conference report to the GEO Web site. I don't think we'll go to the expense of actually hard-copying mailings, but anybody who wants it will be able to get it off the public section of the Web site a few weeks after the conference.
PND: What are GEO's plans going forward?
BK: You know, that's a good question for Kathleen Enright, our new executive director. One of her first jobs is to comb through our strategic plans and to work with each committee and the steering committee to identify our priorities. Like most organizations, we created an initial strategic plan that was quite conceptual and very ambitious, and now, with new staff in place, we're trying to create an action plan for the next three to five years.
PND: I'll definitely give her a call. Thanks again, Barbara, for taking the time to speak with us today.
BK: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it.
Mitch Nauffts, PND's editorial director, spoke with Kibbe by phone and e-mail in January and February. For more information on the Newsmakers series, contact Mitch at email@example.com.