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Voices from the Field: An Interview with Johanna Morariu

In an effort to help EPIP members gain value from the experience of professionals in the field, EPIP has started a new interview series. Blog readers will be able to learn valuable lessons from leaders in the field.

The second interview in this series is with Johanna Morariu. Johanna is a member of EPIP in Washington, D.C. and a Director at Innovation Network.  In her position, she works with her colleagues to help funders and nonprofits collect data about their work and improve their results.  

In this interview, Johanna shares what has helped her in her own career and provides advice for the emerging professional.    

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1. Could you provide a brief professional description of who you are and what you do? 

My name is Johanna Morariu and I’m one of two Directors of Innovation Network. We’re a Washington, D.C.-based evaluation and research consulting firm. We work with funders and nonprofits across the country to collect data about their work and improve their results.

2.  What drew you to this kind of work and how did you get your start? 

I often say I’m a born evaluator—I make spreadsheets to plan vacations, to track my ratings of wine and beer, and to make big decisions like buying a house or a car. I didn’t know that evaluation was a professional field until I was in grad school. Through two positions I held while in grad school, I came to know the field of evaluation. While I liked the purpose of the profession and the skills it required, it wasn’t until I experienced evaluation in the social sector that I was hooked. I’ve been in the field since then, for ten years.

3. In your opinion, what do you think the future of philanthropy will be?  What do philanthropy professionals and foundations need to do now to ensure its future success?

I think we’ll see philanthropy more engaged in politics. Over the past ten years or so we’ve sensed a surge in “advocacy” or “movement building” funding, money that has mostly gone to 501c3 organizations. And while 501c3s have the ability to engage in limited “political activity” to further their advocacy efforts, it’s often not enough. When they’re up against entities such as PACs that can freely endorse candidates and issues, 501c3 advocacy efforts can easily fall short. And I think there is a hint of this trend in the IRS data—looking at 2009 to 2012 501c4 filings (filing the paperwork to create new 501c4s) were up 18% while 501c3 filings were flat. I think philanthropy will look for ways to structure their assets to support more 501c4s and be more politically engaged.

And I think that change—of being more politically engaged—will require philanthropy to be more nimble than ever before. The pace of politics is fast, and the legwork necessary to do successful politics is even faster. Funders will need to do more real-time data collection, analysis, and decision making—and have it actually be real-time! The world won’t wait for a foundation to approve a funding request.

4. As someone who is involved in work that contributes to innovation in philanthropy, what are four things you think philanthropy professionals can do to contribute to innovation?

I think I only have one idea, maybe I’m not so innovative! I think foundations could contribute more to innovation if they question the structure and process of philanthropy and look for new ways to shape philanthropy. For example, I think it would be very innovative if philanthropy could find ways to fund people rather than projects—like the MacArthur Fellows (the genius grants!). But this is generally outside of how philanthropy is structured.

For example, if you tweak that idea—to fund talented individuals with the ability for self-direction—and apply at the community level, could a foundation working on community change make salary-sized awards to inspiring leaders in the community to free up their time to do even more? Or could foundations interested in healthcare access for rural communities make salary-sized awards to support a nurse practitioner? Would these investments in people as change agents result in longer-term sustained improvements?

5. What EPIP resources or events would you suggest to other members to take advantage of? 

EPIP provides a great network of similarly situated professionals. Get to know these colleagues on a professional and personal level, and pursue opportunities for sharing and collaboration. Figure out who you can learn with, and who you can learn from. These are probably people you’ll be seeing at conferences and other events for the rest of your life!

6. What networks have you found to be the most valuable in your career? 

I’m an evaluator, and my most valuable network is a small-ish group of like-minded evaluators who mostly work on the same issues and with similar organizations. We pass along great evaluation resources, kvetch about minor annoyances, sometimes partner together on projects, and generally provide an incredibly valuable support network to each other. It took me a few years to figure out who I fit in with, but once you find that group, don’t let them go!

7. When it comes to your work, what thought leaders do you regularly follow? 

I think Julia Coffman and Tanya Beer at the Center for Evaluation Innovation do great work, and I don’t just say that because they’re our strategic partner. They are at the front edge of the evaluation field thinking about better ways for philanthropy to evaluate and improve, and they do exceptional work. I also learned a lot from a few years working closely with Tom Kelly, who is now at the Hawaii Community Foundation. I’m also very thankful to benefit from for the methodological work of Michael Quinn Patton which has introduced valuable approaches such as developmental evaluation.

8. In closing, what additional advice would you like to give to EPIP members?

Being an emerging professional can be challenging—you’re still developing your professional identity and increasing your responsibilities. It can feel daunting. But I think this is also an asset, you’re still flexible and eager for new ideas and tasks. You can learn new things and add new skills to your repertoire while you experiment with career paths. Take advantage of this time to build out a well-rounded skill set that will serve you well for the long-haul. In addition to growing your content/technical knowledge, practice facilitating meetings, learn how to work on websites, hone your writing and copyediting skills, figure out a task and project management system that works for you, and refine your presentation skills.

This interview was conducted by EPIP Social Media Fellow, Sophia Guevara.


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