A Leap Across the Atlantic


Immediately after the Thanksgiving break, we signed an agreement that added to the holiday spirit for me as well as the small but mighty Leap of Reason team.

Here’s the backstory. Last March, I met Tiziano Tazzi, the president of Milan-basedFondazione Lang Italia (FLI), in Washington, DC. We learned that Tiziano had established the foundation in 2010 from the estate of an anonymous Milanese benefactor. Tiziano said that Venture Philanthropy Partners’ philanthropic investment approach and Leap of Reason resonated deeply. He said they “led us to try a new road to philanthropy for the benefit of the Italian nonprofit sector.” He asked whether FLI could, at its expense, translate Leap of Reason into my family’s mother tongue and distribute it to nonprofit leaders in Italy.

It took the intervening months to synch up busy schedules, allow for our teams to get to know one another via Skype, and work out all the arrangements, but I’m delighted to say that FLI soon will be the first entity to translate Leap of Reason (with neither party seeking any revenue stream from the translation/distribution). I have also accepted Tiziano’s gracious offer to join the advisory board of the new Lang Centre for Strategic Philanthropy.

The book—doesn’t Salto della Ragione sound good?!—should be ready for distribution in Italian by April 2013. I’m sure my mom, whose parents emigrated from Italy, and dad, who was born there, are dancing in the heavens!

Thanks to FLI’s initiative, we now have a new model for adapting the book’s core messages and the Venture Philanthropy Partners experience to other languages and cultural contexts.

With the growing interest in Leap of Reason globally (the book has now been circulated, in English, in more than 50 countries), we welcome interest from other foundations or global institutions that might be interested in taking a similar approach. We simply want to get the book’s messages out to nonprofits, foundations, governments, and civically engaged business leaders who could benefit from the book being featured in their native language.

And now for some brief updates from the Leap of Reason community:

  • With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our friends at Bridgespan have just rolled out an indispensable compendium of more than 1,000 short, high-quality videos of donors sharing great insights about the whys and hows of their philanthropy. I strongly encourage you to check out the GiveSmart “Conversations with Remarkable Givers” video library. I’ve long been a believer in the power of video to inspire new donors and create peer pressure to invest in effective philanthropic practices—and Bridgespan has done a wonderful job of seizing this opportunity. Full disclosure: I’m one of the interviewees. But even if you’re tired of hearing my spiel, do check out the videos featuring heavyweights like Melinda Gates; Steve and Jean Case; Stanley Druckenmiller; Julian Robertson; and Nancy Roob. Our congratulations to Tom Tierney, Sadie Talmadge, and the whole GiveSmart team for a huge contribution to our field!
  • As if Bridgespan wasn’t busy enough with the GiveSmart videos, it also came out this month with a great report, “How Is Investing in ’What Works’ Working?” The report, based on a survey of and interviews with Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grantees, is a first-draft attempt to draw actionable insights from the $137.5M in federal SIF grants. The research team found promising signs that evidence is mattering more, especially for foundations and some federal agencies. However, fiscal constraints at all levels of government could undermine this progress. Only 20% of SIF-funded nonprofits responding to the survey expect an increase in government funding over the next three years. They also lament that so much government funding at the federal, state, and local level is not being allocated based on evidence of effectiveness.
  • Speaking of SIF, former SIF director Paul Carttar has just published in the Skoll World Forum’s journal, “Why We Aren’t Getting the Full Benefit of Social Innovation—and What the Government Should Do About it,” an excellent, insider’s assessment of the state social innovation. “Only a small share of federal money is currently allocated through competitive, evidence-based selection processes focused on measurable results,” Paul writes. “This must change, and we know how…. The open question is whether we have the will, as this requires stronger direction from the White House and OMB to federal agencies and legislative action by Congress.”
  • Sheri Chaney Jones, a Columbus-based consultant who is bringing her valuable public-sector experience with performance management to nonprofit and government clients, wrote to tell us about the success of the Managing to Outcomes Bootcamp she developed with help from Leap of Reason. She told us that 100% of the participants said they would recommend the bootcamp to a friend and “we had such a positive response we’ve decided to adapt the bootcamp to a six-week online course,” which will begin January 15.
  • Elsewhere in my home state of Ohio, I had the chance to give a keynote address to funders at the Ohio Grantmakers Forum meeting in Cleveland. More noteworthy was a panel afterward that drew an overflow crowd to hear thought leaders Michael Bailin, Kathy Merchant, and Denise Zeman share candid lessons for funders. The panelists were great! They shared excellent perspectives, gave thoughtful advice, and touched on a surprising number of key and provocative/stimulating issues. For instance, Denise explained that as part of her foundation’s “rethink,” she and her team concluded they needed to increase the foundation’s payout percentage to ensure consistent funding to their grantees, regardless of how well their financial investment portfolios fared. I thought this was a HUGE statement. We videotaped the discussion and hope to share video snippets soon.
  • Picking up on the video strand to this update, we will soon have other videos to share with the Leap community. As part of a Leap of Reason speaker’s toolkit (new name forthcoming) we’re developing, we have helped to create three short videos that highlight what high performance looks like. More on these videos soon.

Finally, through the wonders of the twittersphere, we recently learned that at least one reader has taken a leap too far. Marisa Zappone, consulting and research fellow at Greenlights, actually read Leap of Reason while on a sailing honeymoon in the Caribbean!

I’m not quite ready to endorse the book as a wedding gift, but if you’d like copies to give as gifts for the holidays to board members, staff, or other key stakeholders, please let us know. We will share complimentary hard copies along with our best wishes for the holiday season and new year.

My best,