Community Philanthropy: Strategies for Impacting Vulnerable Populations

This piece seeks to show opportunities for philanthropy to intervene in the often-dismal life trajectory of vulnerable populations. Written while a Resident Scholar at the Clinton School of Public Service (Center for Community Philanthropy) at University of Arkansas.


Effective Philanthropy: It’s easy for grantmakers to be overwhelmed with all the data showing the vulnerability of various groups in America.  But it’s a little less overwhelming if one focuses on particular systems, such as health, education, economic opportunity.  It also helps to zero in on particular indicators of performance, such as mortality, skills, living wage.  “Making a difference” literally means bending the trajectories of these indicators, from dismal to viable.

Nonprofit Management: Vulnerable populations are those for whom our systems and markets don’t work so well compared to less vulnerable populations. “Closing the gaps” is the purpose of many nonprofits and public agencies.  The marketplace of philanthropic support should favor nonprofits that can make the case that their efforts reduce a particular targeted disparity.

Community Development: Activists can “make a difference” when they apply their gifts towards disrupting the policy of a system that performs poorly or unfairly.  For example, a goal could be to change the practice of, say, authorities using the records of wrong-doing of a 12-year old to harass, haunt and foreclose on the prospects of an otherwise aspiring adult.

Program Evaluation:  Showing progress in a nonprofit’s efforts to closing disparities should be a key goal for evaluators.  Funders asking an organization to prove that its efforts actually fix the ills of the world is an ask too far.  Asking instead that the organization demonstrate that its efforts are likely to change the operations of a particular disparities-producing piece of real-world action is a more reasonable ask.  Evaluators can help by helping organizations notice the effects of their system-focused activism.


DOWNLOAD HERE – Community Philanthropy: Strategies for Impacting Vulnerable Populations (pdf)

Originally appeared: Publication of the Clinton School of Public Service

Number of pages: 15    Original date: May 1, 2009

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D.

Effective Communities Project

Minneapolis, MN