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Paul Brest

Entries by Paul Brest

Philanthropy by the Numbers

(0) Comments | Posted April 3, 2009 | 10:27 AM

In this final post on the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy's Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®, I will discuss its mandate that a foundation must provide "at least 50 percent of its grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined."


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Philanthropy on Another Planet

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2009 | 3:05 PM

In my fourth post on Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®, I'll discuss NCRP's prescriptions for how a foundation should spend and manage its endowment or other assets. The Criteria require that a foundation (a) pay out at least 6 percent of its assets annually in grants and (b) invest...

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Philanthropy at its Somewhat Myopic: Mistaking Means and Ends

(0) Comments | Posted March 20, 2009 | 8:53 PM

In the last post, I described the National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP)'s prescriptions for foundation governance in Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®. Here I'll discuss its prescriptions for grantmaking practices themselves. I will also discuss NCRP's literally unbelievable response to critics of its Criteria.

But first the...

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Philanthropy Mostly For the Better: NCRP's Criteria for Governance and Transparency

(2) Comments | Posted March 13, 2009 | 9:11 AM

In this second post on the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy's Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®, I'll discuss its prescriptions for foundation governance and transparency. Because I find much to agree with here, readers may find this pretty boring.

A number of NCRP's prescriptions mirror the Principles...

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NCRP at its Most Presumptuous

(8) Comments | Posted March 5, 2009 | 8:17 AM

Earlier this week, The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) published a paper entitled Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best®: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaking Impact. NCRP starts from the premises, which I share, that philanthropy is seriously underperforming in achieving "social benefit or impact" and in helping...

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Counting the Countable

(2) Comments | Posted March 2, 2009 | 12:15 AM

My last post described how Charity Navigator's decision to incorporate outcomes data into its rating system is an important step towards creating a culture in which nonprofits strive for impact and donors reward it. But the task of developing meaningful and appropriate outcome measures is complex. It will...

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Informing Donors About Nonprofit Performance

(4) Comments | Posted February 25, 2009 | 8:04 PM

Back in December, I wrote that the one thing I wanted to know before donating to a nonprofit was whether it was achieving its goals. Since it's hard to find that information, I was happy to see that Charity Navigator is exploring how to integrate data on...

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Guest Post by Jacob Harold -- The Nonprofit Marketplace: Getting Social Impact Bang For Our Philanthropic Bucks

(3) Comments | Posted February 13, 2009 | 3:22 PM

This is a guest post by Jacob Harold, a program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In 2008, donors in the US made about $300 billion in charitable contributions to a total of around 1.5 million nonprofits. We call this huge flow of philanthropic...

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(2) Comments | Posted February 5, 2009 | 10:14 AM

Last week I wrote that nonprofits should aim to optimize costs, not minimize them. Administrative costs are not only justified but mandated if they contribute to an organization's social impact. Therefore, forcing charities to keep administrative costs excessively low may prevent them from achieving their missions.

Dan Pallotta,...

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Administrative Costs and Overhead

(8) Comments | Posted January 30, 2009 | 9:06 AM

Don't yawn and click on another link yet. Administrative costs and overhead sound really boring, but they're critically important for nonprofit organizations and also for donors, most of whom don't appreciate their importance. This post will set out the basic concepts, and the next will apply them to Dan Pallotta's...

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Is Corporate Philanthropy to Philanthropy What Military Music is to Music?

(3) Comments | Posted January 27, 2009 | 8:07 PM

Is corporate philanthropy to philanthropy what military music is to music? This question arose when I participated in a meeting on corporate philanthropy, sponsored by The Economist and moderated by the journal's own Matthew Bishop, co-author of a new book, Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World.


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Where do Theories of Change come From, and to Whom do They Belong?

(3) Comments | Posted January 16, 2009 | 10:29 AM

In his most recent contribution to our dialogue about theories of change, Sean Stannard-Stockton says that "nonprofits should have sound business plans that address both operations as well as a Theory of Change for why their programs will affect social impact" and that "the designing of programs and researching...

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The Role of the Philanthropist: Evidence-Based Theories of Change, Round II

(3) Comments | Posted January 13, 2009 | 1:54 PM

[This continues Sean Stannard-Stockton's and my conversation about theories of change. Sean wrote a guest post on this blog, arguing that donors should be primarily concerned with funding great nonprofit organizations rather than crafting theories of change for social programs. I replied. And Sean has now...

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Why Evidence is Essential in Defining the Missions of Non-Profits

(3) Comments | Posted January 9, 2009 | 5:19 PM

With characteristic cogency, Sean Stannard-Stockton's guest post raises a crucial question about strategic philanthropy's requirement of an evidence-based theory of change. Sean says that this is an error because the social world is too dynamic and complex for philanthropists and the nonprofit organizations they support to base social interventions...

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Guest Post: Sean Stannard-Stockton

(4) Comments | Posted January 8, 2009 | 11:43 AM

[Sean Stannard-Stockton and I began an off-line exchange about strategic philanthropy, and we agreed that it would be useful to continue it online and get your views. Here's a guest post by Sean. My reply will follow tomorrow, and we look forward to your posts as well.--Paul]

"What's The...

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Michael Edwards' Case Against Philanthrocapitalism

(2) Comments | Posted January 2, 2009 | 2:20 PM

"The world wouldn't need to be saved by the rich if their profits were returned to their employees in the first place," one reader responded to my "Philanthrocapitalism" post. Along the same lines, in Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism, Michael Edwards challenges philanthrocapitalists to...

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Madmunk's Critique of Strategic Philanthropy

(0) Comments | Posted December 26, 2008 | 9:43 AM

Although I'm taking the week off, I thought readers might want to see a post by Philanthropica blogger "Madmunk" about Hal Harvey's and my book, Money Well Spent and about the concept of strategic philanthropy more generally.

Madmunk likes much about the book. But he says...

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(5) Comments | Posted December 19, 2008 | 1:34 PM

In their new book, Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green describe how super-rich "philanthrocapitalists" like Bill Gates are shaking up the world of giving with their businesslike methods. The discussion continues on their blog as well.

Much philanthrocapitalism is not all...

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Does Your Donation Actually Make a Difference?

(2) Comments | Posted December 12, 2008 | 2:50 PM

In his blog on, Nathaniel Whittemore invites philanthropy and social change bloggers to answer the question: what is the one thing you need to know before you donate to charity this holiday season?

My answer: I would like to know whether the organization of my choice is...

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Strategic Philanthropy in Tough Times

(0) Comments | Posted December 4, 2008 | 1:17 PM

In the several weeks since Hal Harvey and I wrote about the role of philanthropy in the current economic crisis, the effect of the economic downturn on foundations has become clearer. Ian Wilhelm estimates that their endowments are down about 30% -- about the same as most...

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