Roughly 300 people came together on Friday to discuss the latest strategies and developments in the field of philanthropy.
Held at the School of Management, the 10th Annual Yale Philanthropy Conference emphasized innovative philanthropic techniques based on data-driven analysis. The conference is a student-run project of the Net Impact club at the School of Management, said Tony Sheldon, executive director of the School of Management Program on Social Enterprise. Sheldon added that the content for each conference reflects the interest of the organizers and “by extension the current student body.” According to organizers interviewed, the conference aimed to attract a national audience, and most of the attendees came from outside Yale.
“We are really embracing the idea of innovation in philanthropy,” conference co-chair Sally Shen SOM ’15 said. “It is a process that has been discussed before, but this is the first year we brought the framework of the innovation cycle intact.”
In his address, Michael Smith — special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director of cabinet affairs for My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative aimed at empowering young men of color through reforms in schools and communities, at the White House — said non-profit organizations must invest in quantitatively measuring their impact.
Organizations without data recording their success should not be funded, he added.
“We can no longer say that it is okay to continue to write checks to organizations that have no evidence of impact, investing where there is no opportunity,” Smith said.
The conference also included breakout sessions that focused on the application of business models to the philanthropic sector, the use of incentives to foster innovation and the use of data to drive decision-making.
Conference co-chair Maryrose Myrtetus SOM ’15 said the three-pronged approach was essential for the success of nonprofits, since the organizations need to focus on measuring the impact of their programs while also innovating.
Tom Fry, managing director of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, which focuses on making high-impact philanthropic investments, said grant-makers should act as “strategic thought-partners” with the recipient nonprofit organization.
“It’s not just about giving money; that’s not what makes successful organizations,” Fry said. “It’s helping bring a network of contacts, helping hire challenging people to the organization. Those are the things that make successful ventures whether it’s in the for-profit or not-for-profit space.”
Maggie Osborn, president of Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, said while data-driven decision-making is important, philanthropic organizations must also emphasize the value of stories drawn from the data.
Conference attendees interviewed said they were impressed by the conference and agreed that innovation should be emphasized in the philanthropic sector.
Susan Saltrick, a conference attendee and Teach for America administrator, said it is interesting to think about different financial models to build sustainability in nonprofit organizations.
Anna Navratil, the development operations manager for United Way of Greater New Haven, an organization that focuses on creating social impact and improving lives in the region, said she felt that the conference was a great avenue to hear from thought leaders in the field.
The conference provides an opportunity for participants to meet with their peers dealing with similar issues for the first time and be exposed to different perspectives, Sheldon said.
“It’s good to step out of the circle that you may be in, and you never know who you may meet and come across, and that helps you think outside the box and look at other opportunities,” conference attendee Denise Henry