When Donors Become Catalysts For Change
Another interesting article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review provides examples of what the author calls “Catalytic Philanthropy.” In a nutshell, the concept involves strategic, concentrated, and typically large investments of resources to achieve a specific instrumental change in the status quo. The model has successfully reduced meth use in Montana and increased math literacy in California; could it also be applied to animal protection?
Many years ago I worked with the Northwest Animal Rights Network, one of the more active grassroots groups in the U.S. We produced and launched a series of pro-vegetarian TV commercials that broke the ground for later efforts by Compassion Over Killing, PETA, and others. Although we had some excellent volunteers who helped us produce the ads on a shoestring, we lacked the resources to sustain the campaign. We had what we felt was a compelling catalyst for change, but we had insufficient philanthropy (i.e., grants or donations) with which to carry it out.
I believe this is likely the case with many smaller animal groups, some of whom have innovative ideas that do not gain significant traction because of lack of funding. And as the animal protection movement continues to mature, we will see even more innovative ideas. However, those of us who support animal causes with our grants and donations must also mature by asking difficult questions and demanding proof of effectiveness. Philanthropists must become more discerning with their support and also more involved in making sure their supported programs successful.
The SSIR article’s author, Mark Kramer, seems to emphasize philanthropists taking somewhat of a “go-it-alone” approach, while paying lip service to tempering boldness with caution. In my opinion, there is no shortage of smart advocates, good organizations, and innovative ideas in the animal protection movement. The challenge is for institutional funders and individual donors to take the time to uncover those innovative ideas and, more importantly, hold advocates accountable. Here the author offers some helpful advice; according to Kramer, Catalytic Philanthropy involves four essential practices:
- Take Responsibility for Achieving Results – Funders and donors must take a passionate and personal interest in the efforts they are supporting, while remaining open to the input of those in the field.
- Mobilize a Campaign for Change – Concentrate resources on identifying the issue’s most important stakeholders and involving those who are most likely to be catalysts for change.
- Use All Available Tools – Once the stakeholders are identified, mobilize all relevant and available resources that are needed to achieve the desired change, from advocacy to lobbying to litigation.
- Create Actionable Knowledge – Tracking and reporting data is a no-brainer, but it is just as important to develop compelling information that engages constituents and measures true progress.
For me, one of the most appealing aspects of Kramer’s concept of Catalytic Philanthropy is its reliance on accurate information. Data isn’t just for program evaluation geeks anymore; it’s also essential information for campaigners and funders of all types. When presented correctly, data can also be used to make effective emotional appeals and to tell compelling stories of one’s progress. Funders and philanthropists must take the lead on “creating actionable knowledge” by holding advocates accountable to their funding and demanding quantifiable evidence of impact.