Philanthropy Experts Gather to Discuss Documentary Film

The screening of the recently-released documentary, Saving Philanthropy: Resources to Results, brought film director and producer Kate Robinson and a panel of industry experts to campus. An animated discussion on the effective management of donor funds in the non-profit sector followed the screening, led by Laura Callahan, Senior Expert on philanthropy at McKinsey & Company’s Social Sector practice, and David Hunter, founder of Hunter Consulting LLC, which advises non-profit service and funder organizations on the effective use of performance management systems. The event was cosponsored by a host of university groups, including: Yale SOM Net Impact, Yale SOM Philanthropy Conference, Yale Entrepreneurial Society, Yale Collaborative Academic Network, and the Politics and Economics Departments.

The hour-long documentary was inspired by Robinson’s personal experience in the non-profit sector. The concern that non-profits often obscure their program goals and desired outcomes by trying “to be everything to everyone” prompted Robinson to partner with her filmmaker brother, Robby Robinson, and interview a cross-section of forward-looking funders and non-profits that successfully manage their organizations to targeted outcomes. The film profiles reputable voices in the field, ranging from funders like The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and Venture Philanthropy Partners, to evaluation firms like Child Trends and Public/Private Ventures, to intermediaries like Charity Navigator, The Center for Effective Philanthropy, and Root Cause.

Robinson also outlined a simple, four-step model for organizations to fine-tune their mission and inform their day-to-day operations with relevant quantitative metrics. Her film identifies Nurse-Family Partnership, which supports and educates first-time mothers from low-income backgrounds, and Roca, which works to transition gang-related youth in Boston out of poverty, as two examples of non-profits that successfully married data collection with program improvement.

Numerous students cited personal challenges, on both the funder and non-profit side, with identifying the most telling success metrics of an organization. Callahan and Hunter noted the rapid evolution of impact evaluation, as funders are asking non-profits to collect growing amounts of data, and at times, to perform randomized control trials as proof points. Both stressed the need to evaluate a non-profit’s “business potential” and design an organization’s goals based on what is already known in the field. Callahan also stressed that developing an organizational culture that “encourages curiosity and a drive for continuous quality improvement” is particularly critical to sustained success.