Effective Communities Project
The Effective Communities Project is designed to strengthen the effectiveness of nonprofits, foundations, and the communities they support. Founded and directed by Steven E. Mayer, ECP grew out of the mission and legacy of Rainbow Research, Inc., which he led for its first 24 years. This website presents some of his best work.
This website, “EffectiveCommunities.com, is meant to help foundations, nonprofits, community organizations, and program evaluators get a fresh look at how to get better at their work. It is especially meant to be useful to those focusing on community development and system change. The site is designed as a magazine of contemporary Articles that give fresh interpretation for contemporary uses, drawing on past publications Archived on this site, downloadable free.
EffectiveCommunities.com is also an experiment in freshening up findings from the past, making them useful to the present. Putting old wine into new bottles, so to speak, to demonstrate that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as a famous evaluator once said in the past.
This is still an an emerging website and an evolutionary project for me, so please don’t be too judgy. That’s an evaluation term. An evaluation standard that’s meaningful to me, and I invite you to give me feedback on this is, “How useful can any of this be to me now?”
Intended Audiences and Uses
This site is meant to be a gift to past, present, and future allies of work intended to save the world. Since you were led here by one of the Great Bots, this could include you, especially if you can identify with any of the following:
Grantmaking foundations hold vast resources, moral authority, and intelligence, with mission statements that command them to “do good” – their bottom line. Their decisions of what to support and not support have major good and not-so-good consequences. We’d like to see grantmaking staff and boards do this work better, and we like to believe this site has resources that can help.
Nonprofit organizations have similar interests as grantmaking foundations, but typically not the resources. Nonprofits strive to benefit individuals, communities, systems, and organizations in ways consistent with their mission. Missions range from purely charitable to reform of social systems to provide solutions to often unseen systemic and structural problems. We’d like to see nonprofit organization staff, executive directors, and boards do this work better, and we like to believe this site has resources that can help.
This country is blessed with an extraordinary level of “time, talent, and treasure” donated by individuals in hopes of contributing to progress in the same arenas where nonprofits and foundations work. The contributions of activists (and we include individual donors and the volunteering public) are valued, but such individuals must make choices in what to give and to whom. In a sense they are our ultimate audience, since they are the future. We’d like to help them in their aspirations, and we like to believe this site has resources that can help.
Evaluators and evaluation students are the outliers in the social network described above, but they too have a great thirst to be useful in efforts to improve the world. If they didn’t, they’d just be professors. Evaluators usually enter at the behest of the funder, with various mandates, many of them absurd and counter-productive, which evaluators then try to sort out in the name of providing a useful service to their client. We’d like to see them do it better, and we like to believe this site has resources that can help.
Structure of the site
The site’s structure as a magazine is evident from the Home page, featuring different Articles framed within several Departments.
There are Departments for Grantmakers, Nonprofits, Activists, and Evaluators. Each Department features a specially created Article with contemporary lessons gleaned from one of the Archived publications. The Article intends to give new life, current insight, and practical guidance to you in advancing your work.
The newly-posted Articles also allow you to download the original publication, at no cost (at this time). We’ll change these Department Articles from time to time, moving new Articles to the Home page, as new lessons emerge, or as new publications are archived – and to refresh the look of the Home page.
Another Home page Department shows off an emerging product, DaBook: How to Show Off Your Wicked Strong Sexy and Incredibly Effective Nonprofit. I hope you’ll like it. Still another Home page Department carries my blog formerly known as JustPhilanthropy.org. As its subtitle suggests, it’s written “From the Confluence of Philanthropy, Justice, and Evaluation.” It was produced initially as an independent site, part of our social justice work with the Ford Foundation, but now incorporated here. Most posts are historical yet reading them now one can easily conclude, once again, that the more things change the more they stay the same.
At the heart of the website, accessible by tab, is the Archives — the database, the storehouse, the treasury – a set of publications culled from my work over the years.
All these Articles might soon also be accessible from LinkedIn and Facebook.
On this site you’ll find publications and articles about a variety of nonprofit, philanthropic, and public organizations. They operate in a variety of settings ranging from very local to national to multi–jurisdictional – and include grantmaking foundations, nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups, associations, networks, and systems.
They deal with efforts in neighborhood and community development, youth leadership and school reform, social and racial justice, arts and culture, human services, and the skillful practice of both institutional philanthropy and evaluation.
They feature a variety of evaluation strategies for gathering evidence, and products for presenting findings – some of which I’ve helped to pioneer. Good examples include Successful Neighborhood Self–Help: Some Lessons Learned; Guidelines for Effective Adult Literacy Programs; Supporting Low–Income Neighborhood Organizations: A Guide for Community Foundations; A Community Forum to Evaluate Chemical Dependency Prevention Program; CF: The Magazine for Growing Community Foundations; Mainstreet Public Radio Evaluation Standards; The Effies©: An Awards Program; Pathways to Progress: Moving Philanthropy Closer to Racial Equity and Social Justice; Just Philanthropy: Blogging From The Confluence of Philanthropy, Justice, and Evaluation; and as the cherry on the cake: DaBook: How To Show Off That Wicked Strong Sexy and Incredibly Effective Nonprofit.
Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D.
A brief timeline. While stumbling around in college, I got a job with Human Sciences Research, Inc., one of those social science think tanks along the beltway of Washington, D.C. It set the template for my studies and later work.
The core question at HSR and afterwards has always been, “How can we know if an organized effort is working well?” Graduate studies ensued, in Organizational Psychology (M.A. from The Ohio State University, Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota) involved the study of practical assessment strategies, and the challenge of furthering the productive development of mission–focused organized work. I’ve somehow always carried with me a Humanistic bent and a Social Justice orientation.
My years on campus, 1966–73, virtually assured an interest in the imperative for social reform. The 1971 book, “Reforms as Experiments,” by Donald T. Campbell, provided the bridge from that interest to my training. I read it while an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, and promptly bolted from the halls of academia.
Rainbow Research, Inc.
Back in Minneapolis, known as a progressive city in a good–government state, I began Rainbow Research, Inc. in 1974. The name was meant to be a counterpoint to Control Data, Inc., another local company. Growing from a staff of 175 pounds to 10 full–time positions, we conducted hundreds of projects, large and small, throughout the U.S, and a bit in Central Europe. I can honestly say that each project was supremely interesting and prepared me for the next.
Effective Communities Project
But exhausted, I finally left Rainbow Research, wandered the Earth a bit, and returned to Minneapolis to create the Effective Communities Project in January 1998, with a purpose and style like that of Rainbow Research, and where we’ve done some of our best work. BTW, I’m happy to report that while Control Data is extinct, Rainbow Research continues successfully under only its third director in 48 years.
Johns Hopkins University
Most recently, I’ve been teaching an on-line course in Nonprofit Program Development as Adjunct Professor in Johns Hopkins University’s Masters Program in NGO Management. This has allowed me to hone my perspective on evaluation, polish my craft, and fire up with a sense of urgent yearning for a decent society.
My hope is that future generations will come to recognize and appreciate it this work!
I can’t say that financial donations to Effective Communities Project will make this work happen any faster, but it will tell me there’s a sense of appreciation and perhaps even anticipation out there. You can donate here.
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