The Effective Communities Project intends to spur on the current generation of evidence-based activists and socially-concerned institutions. Its purpose is to strengthen the mission work and actions of nonprofits, foundations, knowledge workers, activists, donors, and the communities they support. It intends to support those working to create a society that works better for all.
Founded by Steven E. Mayer in 1998, the Effective Communities Project grew out of the mission and rich record of Rainbow Research, Inc., which he led for its first 24 years.
The primary work of the Effective Communities Project at this juncture is to build out this EffectiveCommunities.com website. The website includes:
- New and more urgent narrative that illuminates findings from the past that actually relate to the present
- Key guidance to those in position to use these lessons and findings.
- Instruction on the art and practice of “evaluation” as a useful tool to socially-concerned organizations
- Snarky opinion pieces
Intended Audiences and Uses
This website is meant to support the work of those intending to create a society that works better for all. It’s meant to be a gift to those working to improve the mission work of socially-concerned organizations. Since you found this site, 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 Posts framed within several Departments – each with a theme: Social Justice, Effective Philanthropy, Community Development, Nonprofit Management, and Program Evaluation.
The site is designed as a magazine of contemporary writing giving fresh interpretation for contemporary uses. Some draw on publications written in the past, all downloadable free from the Archives. Others are more like blog posts reacting to current events, from the perspective of an evaluator and social critic. Others are instructional, offering advice to those working in the so-called philanthropic or nonprofit sectors, in such key roles as.
- Program officers of grantmaking organizations
- Boards of directors of socially-concerned organizations
- Program evaluators
- Nonprofit program managers
- Community activists and other donors of time, talent, treasure
EffectiveCommunities.com is partly 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.
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. All I want is that you find some of this material useful to you now.
Some posts are continuations of 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.
Many of these posts are also accessible from LinkedIn.
On this site you’ll find publications and posts 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 in college but without any real direction, I was hired to organize the library of Human Sciences Research, Inc., one of those social science think tanks along the beltway of Washington, D.C. It allowed me to assist the resident social science staff, and it set the template for my studies and later work. I dedicated my first book to its director, Dr. M. Dean Havron.
The core question at Human Sciences Research was, “How can we know if an organization – or any organized effort, for that matter – is working well?” It intrigued me, and graduate studies ensued in Organizational/Industrial Psychology (M.A. from The Ohio State University, Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota). The core question for me evolved into, “By what criteria can we assess the conduct of organizations, especially their performance against mission, especially missions that are fuzzy and socially-purposed?” I studied assessment methods, measurement of human and organizational qualities, and statistics. Eventually I taught all those subjects at the highest levels while somehow keeping a Humanistic and Social Justice bent.
My years on campus as a student, 1966–73, virtually assured an interest in social reform. The 1971 book, “Reforms as Experiments,” by Donald T. Campbell, provided the bridge from that interest to my eventual career. I read it while an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, and promptly bolted from the halls of academia.
Rainbow Research, Inc.
Returning to Minneapolis, known then as a progressive city in a good–government state, I began Rainbow Research in 1974, first as an individual consultancy and soon after as a non-profit corporation. The name was meant to be a counterpoint to Control Data, Inc., another local company. The litmus test applied by the IRS that granted us non-profit status was whether our work could be published in public libraries. This was in itself a huge boon, as it encouraged us to develop strategies for conducting evaluation inquiries and new genres for publishing findings in a way that, well, served the public. One of the qualities we explicitly sought in new staff was “curious in almost all settings.” 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 Western and Central Europe, and produced a significant Catalog of Publications. I can honestly say that each project was supremely interesting and prepared us for the next.
Effective Communities Project
Burnt out, like many founder-directors whose work took them away from home almost half their time, I finally left Rainbow Research, and after a suitable pause, created the Effective Communities Project in January 1998. Not surprisingly it has a purpose and style like that of Rainbow Research (but without the overhead and organizational demands). I’m glad to say that equally interesting work came my way where I could work with stringers and produce some of our best work. BTW, I’m happy to report that while Control Data is long extinct (its name practically ensured it), Rainbow Research continues successfully. It has just hired only its fourth director in 47 years; its revised website reflects this change and we wish them well.
Johns Hopkins University
Most recently, I’ve been teaching an on-line course in Nonprofit Program Development and Evaluation as Adjunct Professor and Lecturer in Johns Hopkins University’s Masters of Arts Program in Non-Governmental Organization Management. This has allowed me to hone my perspective on evaluation and energize brilliant mid-career students with perspective and tools to pursue a more decent society.
EffectiveCommunities.com – a pitch
“Do you want skill-building perspectives offered on this website – useful to activists, nonprofit program managers, foundation program officers and individual donors, and program evaluators – without the clutter of advertising that can compromise the integrity of the lessons presented in these publications?” I modified this pitch from another website’s pitch for funds, please forgive me.
If supporting the skill-building opportunities awaiting the community-building, social justice activist, nonprofit and philanthropic field aligns with your values, then please make a donation to Effective Communities Project to help pay website development costs and keep the site going!
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. Please follow the link below, and we thank you very much!
Also note that donations are not tax-deductible, as this website and other activities of ECP are conducted by Effective Communities LLC, not a non-profit organization. But donations are welcome even so!
To make suggestions on how to improve this website, Contact us.
This site uses the MH Magazine WordPress theme as implemented by the good folks at The Mighty Mo, crackerjack WordPress mechanics.
Many of the images on site were created by Mike Jaszewski firstname.lastname@example.org
A shout-out also to CoCo – a Coworking and Collaborative space, where this site was conceived, and to Impact Hub – Minneapolis, where I frequently spend productive time.
Both the Effective Communities Project and EffectiveCommunities.com are activities of Effective Communities LLC.