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Book Review

New Philanthropy Benchmarking - Author: Kristina Anna Kazarian

Book Review by Jed Emerson

(Senior Fellow, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Bloomberg Senior Research at Harvard Business School, and co-founder of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund)

New Philanthropy Benchmarking: Raising the Performance Bar, Increasing Value

Beginning in the 1980s, those in the nonprofit sector witnessed the entry of a new set of players into their midst. The new wealth of Wall Street, followed later by the dot-com entrepreneurs and others benefiting from the unprecedented growth in the US economy, made for the creation of not simply a new class of ultra-high net worth individuals, but individuals who having created revolutions in business began turning their attention to the social causes of our day. Whether one labels these emerging players venture philanthropists or simply new donors, they came bringing not just their checkbooks, but their business skills and mindset as well. For a sector more accustomed to directing donors to the annual dinner than the next staff committee meeting, this influx of new, engaged players was in some ways controversial and in others beneficial‹but regardless of whether they were welcomed or feared, their presence has clearly been felt.

The latest effort to help define this new breed of donor and the tools they wield is offered by Kristina Anna Kazarian and is entitled, "New Philanthropy Benchmarking: Wisdom for the Passionate." Part textbook, part call to action, New Philanthropy Benchmarking - written by a newcomer with a critical eye guided by obvious enthusiasm for the social mission of the nonprofit sector - offers a broad critique of traditional foundation and nonprofit practice as well as suggestions for the improvement of philanthropic performance through the application of proven benchmarking techniques.

The book is built around seven "wisdom points" taken from Kazarian's observations of the field, readings of its scholars and research of leading philanthropists - whom she calls "capitalist/philanthropists" or simply "CPs" in order to distinguish them from both those who manage foundations and those of inherited wealth. These seven wisdom points - ranging from issues of opportunities for "profound transformation" to those of more basic challenges of strategy - present her general thesis that the sector has a great deal more to learn from business practice and that such lessons can be put to valuable use by both donor and grantee.

But New Philanthropy Benchmarking is not simply the standard call for nonprofit organizations to become "more business-like." From the start, Kazarian consistently advances the position that the social sector has great value, however it also holds untapped potential to change lives, communities and the world. She refers to this as the "value gap" and in this regard, her writing encourages us to do more and achieve yet greater things than the sector has managed to date.

Kazarian is balanced in her approach to the topic in that she champions the use of performance benchmarking by not only the organizations that receive charitable support, but by foundations as well. In advancing this argument she launches some of her most provocative broadsides against traditional philanthropic practice and does so through presenting a number of cases to back up her perspective - even including an appendix entitled, "Social Sector Misfortunate Situations" as a kind of "top-ten list" of failed philanthropy.

The audience for this book consists of a broad cross-section of philanthropists, foundation executives and nonprofit managers, and therefore the book is itself simultaneously sweeping and focused. As such, New Philanthropy Benchmarking is offered as a comprehensive guidebook for those interested in not simply an introduction to performance benchmarking, but in developing a better understanding of how the technique might best be imported for use in the nonprofit sector. It is a welcome tool to assist one in moving through the philanthropic forest - by turns focusing in on the detail of the trees while at other times providing a "bird's eye view" of the general strategic approaches of benchmarking and how they play out within a philanthropic context. In that sense, the book acts as both compass and map in assisting the newcomer to understand terms and concepts along with their actual application in practice.

New Philanthropy Benchmarking does address what has become the required issue of metrics for accountability, yet its presentation of metrics (which ranges from Blended Return on Investment frameworks to the calculation of a multiplier/discount effect for foundation investment) is nicely balanced with a set of philanthropic mini-profiles that provide the reader with a look into the mindset and philosophy of seven "CPs" currently active in philanthropy. Profiles based upon both primary and secondary resources provide interesting facts regarding not simply the philanthropic goals of such donors, but their personal motivations as well.

In addition to the core chapters discussing various aspects of the concept of philanthropic benchmarking, there is also a trove of information at the end of the book. Indeed, while the observation may sound unusual, the book's greatest contribution may ultimately be found not in its chapters, but in its appendices. With 21 separate appendices, more than half the book offers detail and reference for the reader's future exploration. As such, New Philanthropy Benchmarking is best suited not for a single reading, but as a reference book to which one may turn when looking for a wide variety of ideas, concepts and additional resources on performance benchmarking.

Overall, the book might have benefited from a stronger editorial hand, however that fact emphasizes the numerous nuggets one finds among its pages that together make it a useful orientation to both the general field of benchmarking practice and its possible applications within the social sector. The book is as provocative and engaging as its author, from whom the nonprofit sector will no doubt hear more over the years to come.