August 11, 2011

When a Pulitzer’s Not the Goal: How the Sandler Foundation Defines Success for ProPublica

By: The Bridgespan Group

Sometimes conventional goals and measures don’t capture what you are really trying to achieve with your philanthropy. Take ProPublica, an independent newsroom created to conduct investigative reporting. The Sandler Foundation conceived and incubated ProPublica in 2007 as a way to fight corruption. You would think the two Pulitzers ProPublica has garnered in only four short years would be enough to declare the initiative a success. But according to Herb Sandler, (co-president with his wife, Marion, of the Sandler Foundation): “As much as we admire investigative journalism, the story is not the end. If it doesn’t change behavior, it was an interesting exercise, but essentially meaningless.”

It can be hard to define what success means to you, and it can be tempting to shoot for visible yardsticks (like Pulitzers) that aren’t ultimately meaningful. In his wise and highly readable new book Leap of Reason, Mario Morino explores practical ways to measure results. His suggestions are highly aligned with the thoughts I shared last week on a good definition of success: It should reflect your values and beliefs, be bounded and useful in decision making, and allow you to gauge progress and get better over time.

See more on how the Sandlers worked to make the ProPublica concept a reality.

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