What do unconditional cash transfers, brain science, big data, and collective impact have in common? They were all subjects covered in the top SSIR articles published this year. New approaches to philanthropy proved a particularly hot topic. Here’s a look at what piqued the most interest—and, in the spirit of the holidays, they’re all open to nonsubscribers!


1. “The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation
In this top feature story, Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux look at how some funders are reintroducing risk-taking and “injecting innovation” into their grantmaking practices.


2. “Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World
This Up for Debate article from directors at FSG suggests that philanthropy needs to make a shift—away from “a predictive model of philanthropic strategy to an emergent model that better fits the complexity of change.” Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker, Rockefeller Foundation’s Zia Khan, and many other thought leaders respond.



3. “GiveDirectly? Not So Fast.
Kevin Starr and Laura Hattendorf of the Mulago Foundation critique unconditional cash transfers as a solution to poverty. GiveWell’s Holden Karnofsky and others disagree.


4. “Rethinking Poverty
This article, based on new brain science research, looks at how the stresses of poverty can impact people’s ability to think critically and find ways to escape their condition. Written by Elisabeth Babcock. (Find more articles on poverty here.)


5. “Big Data for Social Innovation
Authors Kevin Desouza and Kendra Smith suggest that nonprofits are falling behind scientific and business communities in using digital technology, and offer four steps to improve how social change organizations use big data for innovation. (Also see two complimentary webinars related to big data: “Data-Driven Strategy in the Social Sector” and “Using Big Data to Predict Social Impact.”)


6. “The Dawn of System Leadership
This recent article from thought leaders Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania introduces the idea of “system leaders”—those who catalyze collective leadership to attain deeper levels of social change. Includes a supplemental article and “systems map.”


7. “Growth Force
This case study, written by Greg Beato, traces the evolution of the Salesforce.com Foundation’s philanthropic strategy, from traditional grantmaking to a more-scalable model that combines investment, employee service, and donations to charitable causes. (Read other case studies here.)


8. “Measuring Impact Isn’t for Everyone
As part of the 11-post “The Value of Strategic Planning and Evaluation” series curated by Paul Brest, researchers Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan argue that organizations will better serve their missions by focusing on cost-effective, decision-driven data collection, rather than on impact.


9. “Re-Reading 'Collective Impact': Three Lessons
Chris Thompson of Fund for Our Economic Future revisits the seminal article “Collective Impact” and finds new insight. He remindes us that social change is long-term work and collaboration requires capacity, and notes how funders must change their perspective.


10. “The New Nonprofit IPO
Mollie West and Andy Posner of the Capital Good Fund re-examine a nonprofit funding model that offers “social innovation shares” to donors, giving them a tangible stake in the organization. (See more articles on fundraising here.)

Read more stories by Jenifer Morgan.