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National Geographic Photo, by Jim Richardson. Sheep in Scotland.

(The New York Times) After 40 years of encouraging, as Joni Mitchell put it, “spots on our apples,” Earth Day has gone decidedly corporate.  Earth Day’s original, nonprofit intent to foster recycling and raise awareness about our dwindling environment in 1970 has now prompted a business and a new vocabulary.  “Going green” so that we can reduce our “carbon footprint” is the latest trend.  Just look at big companies like F.A.O. Schwartz, which is peddling  Peat the Penguin, an emerald green toy made from earth-friendly soy fibers and who claims to be “an ardent supporter of recycling, reusing, and reducing waste.”  The national coordinator of Earth Day, Denis Hayes, is sickened by the corporations that are taking charge and stimulating eco-consumerism.  “This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green,” Mr. Hayes said.  It seems, in many ways, that Earth Day’s mission is being stifled by piles of organic commodities, and as any contemporary consumer knows, items boasting sustainability like Peat the Penguin certainly aren’t restricted to F.A.O. Schwartz.

Corporations’ support does have its charms, however.  The New York Times reports that environmental nonprofits team up with big companies in order to spread the message, and it is positive that such powerful groups choose to raise environmental awareness.  Google and Cisco, for instance, are joining hands with Greenpeace to produce a Webinar on video conferences and “cloud” computing, both of which reduce environmental destruction.

Ultimately, however, the regression in true Earth Day ideals is just part of our progressing culture, says independent filmmaker Robert Stone: “Every Earth Day is a reflection of where we are as a culture.  If it has become commoditized, about green consumerism instead of systemic change, then it is a reflection of our society.”  Mr. Stone is making a documentary on the history of American environmentalism to be aired on public television this week.

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Measuring and/or Estimating Social Value Creation

Because of the recession, many grantmakers are seeking to maximize the influence of their charitable dollars on the populations they serve, but before they begin evaluating NGOs, many are evaluating how they evaluate.  There are numerous ways to calculate the impact of an NGO and knowing the best way for a given organization can be key to making the best possible decisions.

The Gates Foundation published an article that may be of use to anyone looking for information the about various methods for measuring the social value created by an NGOs.  The paper focuses on 8 different ways to calculate the impact of a given organization’s actions, and gives an explanation of issues that deserve consideration in the evaluation process.  Although it does not give the exact mathematics of how to calculate created social value with each methodology, it discusses the major differences between them and the situations in which each one would likely work best.  If you are looking to expand the way in which you evaluate the effectiveness of your NGO or those you work with, this article is a great starting point.

Tomorrow’s Philanthropist

Barclay Wealth, in cooperation with Ledbury Research, recently published a report titled “Tomorrow’s Philanthropist,” which investigates current trends in charitable donations to predict changes in philanthropy in coming decades.  The report is based on interviews with 500 wealthy philanthropists as well as experts in charity and finance.

Much of report focuses on changes in the composition of the wealthy.  It notes that an increasing number of wealthy philanthropists made their fortunes through their own entrepreneurship.  As a result, the report finds that they are more likely to take an active role in the way their donations are being spent.  They are more likely to donate to smaller, leaner organizations than philanthropists in the past.  They are also more willing to take risks with their donations, supporting creative and innovative charities instead of large established charities.

Additionally, philanthropists are demanding more results from their donations.  They are asking for more transparency in charities and are specific about how they want their donations to be used.  Tomorrow’s philanthropists are also increasingly supporting international causes.

“Typically you’re getting five to ten times the value with your dollar in international giving than you are in inner-city Chicago… for $150, you completely alter the trajectory of somebody’s life. You say, well how much would it cost me to actually achieve that same thing per person in the US? It’s probably about $4,000.”     -Doug Balfour, CEO of philanthropic advisors Geneva Global

The report also discusses the increasing role of women in philanthropy, the role of new technologies and charity, and the blurring of the distinction between business and philanthropy.  May of the trends discussed have been the subject of other publications, but this report is unique in presenting them in a unified manner to give a fairly clear picture of what the world of philanthropy can expect in the future.