10 posts categorized "author-Kris Putnam-Walkerly"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2016)

December 05, 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...and Hannukkah...and Kwanzaa...and the end of an especially eventful year. Before you get busy with your end-of-year tasks and holiday chores, take a few minutes to check out some of the PhilanTopic posts that other readers enjoyed and found useful in November....

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or gave you a reason to feel hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

November 16, 2016

Keep-moving-forwardA week ago, the country was in a totally different place than it is today. Regardless of your personal politics, there's no denying we are entering uncertain times. Like everyone else, grantmakers are looking around, trying to figure out how we got here, and making their best guesses about the lay of the land in the months to come. Here are seven things that you might want to consider as you think about the next four years:

1. Don't beat yourself up. The election outcome made it clear that many of us in philanthropy have overlooked the sentiments of a silent but seething portion of the population. While it's great to reflect and think about what your blinders may have been in the past, we all need to learn from what happened and move on. We have important work to do.

2. Don't gut your strengths. Just because the world has changed doesn't mean your work has been misguided. For example, as a field we have made great strides in racial equity and inclusion, and we simply can't drop that focus now. We must recognize that, just as with the stock market, we shouldn't allow short-term reactions to affect our long-term goals. If your early childhood strategy was working last week, it will work next week, and next month, and next year (albeit with a few tweaks and adjustments).

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Get Out There!

September 08, 2016

Go_signI hope you had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it's time to hunker down in the office and get things done, right?

Wrong.

In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see community problems being solved. There's no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging connections. And there are few people more suited to forging connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.

Building connections isn't something you do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them firsthand with those who are most affected by them. You need to meet people on their own turf and look them in the eye before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear on a problem. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that almost never take place within your own foundation's walls.

Of course, not every foundation operates this way. It's not that foundation people are shy or too self-important to get out there – it's that they get caught up in the myth of the importance of being in the office.

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4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

August 15, 2016

Eco-InnovationToo often foundations ask their grantees for "innovative ideas" but fail to deliver the same thing themselves — or even bother to define what "innovation" means. The assumption is that it "just happens." That lack of definition has come to imply that innovation must involve a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.

As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula: How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, I now realize the opposite is true. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas. Here's what I learned from their book, and how I've applied it when working with my clients.

Supportive environments for innovation are created when:

  • Leadership – especially the CEO – serves as champions for the process.
  • Leadership believes that everyone can be innovative.
  • Leadership is willing to regularly identify, test, pilot, and implement potentially innovative ideas.
  • Leadership prudently monitors risk (not every innovative idea is a good one!).

Once these conditions are in place, there are four steps a foundation can take to generate innovations on an ongoing basis. They are:

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8 Tools Grantmakers Frequently Forget to Use

July 07, 2016

Photodune-9895775-toolbox-mWhen most people think about philanthropy, they usually think about money. But cold, hard cash is just one tool in the grantmaker's tool box. And some of those non-cash tools are far more effective when it comes to addressing grantee needs and community challenges. Here are eight tools grantmakers can — and should — use more often:

1. Connections. Who are the people you know, and how can you introduce or refer your grantees to them? If you're like most people, you probably have a broader list of contacts than you realize. Don't be afraid to use it. Think about the other funders, accountants, attorneys, consultants, government employees, and nonprofit leaders you've met. How could these people help your grantees or partners? Once you get started, you'll be amazed at the connections you can make.

2. Knowledge and intellectual capital. What do you know about your community, about local politics, about other funders, about the issues? How and when can you share that information in ways that can support your grantees? For example, the Community Foundation of Lorain County recently used its knowledge of the area and of board leadership to conduct a series of board trainings for board members and CEOs from nonprofits across the county. And the Cleveland Foundation, after learning a great deal about quality afterschool programs, created an online database of high-quality afterschool programs to help parents find programs for their kids.

3. Experience. Chances are, you have specific experience in certain areas that can translate to advice and guidance for grantees. Perhaps earlier in your career you led a scale-up of a nonprofit enabling it to reach new markets. Maybe you led an advocacy campaign aimed at changing public policy. Perhaps your organization merged with another organization. When you started your job as a funder, you didn't wipe the slate clean — you brought your past experience with you, and you can use it now to help your grantees. Just be sure to offer your advice with humility, and only when a grantee is in a mood to listen. No one wants to be forced to learn from your experience against his or her will!

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The 5 Dysfunctions of Philanthropy

December 07, 2015

Trust-culturesIn 2002, Patrick Lencioni wrote a book titled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In it, Lencioni explores the interpersonal aspects of teambuilding in a professional setting and explains how they undermine success. And while Lencioni's team operates in a fictional company, his lessons are entirely relevant to grantmakers.

Here's my take on how Lencioni's five dysfunctions can manifest themselves in philanthropy.

Dysfunction #1 — Absence of trust. Lencioni describes this as the unwillingness of team members to share their weaknesses with the rest of the group. This is completely understandable and a deeply rooted aspect of human nature. It's hard to admit weakness to your teammates when everyone is so invested in achieving success. But grantmakers take this dysfunction to a new level when it comes to dealing with grantees. The organizations we fund are just as important to our success as we are probably more so, in fact  yet how many funders are willing to admit any weakness to their grantees or confess that they don't always know the best way forward? And, as a result, how many of us can truly say we have a deep and mutually trusting relationship with the organizations and people we fund?

Dysfunction #2 — Fear of conflict. Few of us relish the idea of arguing with our colleagues, but we often are so afraid of conflict that we shy away from healthy and enlightening debate or discussion. The truth is that talking through any point of contention in a respectful way — whether it's something operational like grantmaking procedure or deeply cultural like equity and inclusion — ultimately serves to pull a team together and make it stronger in the end. Conversely, avoiding debates, even passionate ones, for the sake of maintaining harmony almost always does more harm than good. That said, grantmakers instill a fear of conflict in the hearts of grantees almost by default. After all, what organization wants to engage in conflict with the hand that feeds it? Imagine how much we'd learn, however, if our grantees trusted us enough to debate important issues.

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Delusional Altruism

November 12, 2014

Money_down_the_drainFoundations pride themselves on the good they do for others; that's the very nature and culture of philanthropy. However, in my fifteen years as a consultant who advises foundations, I've found that most foundations suffer from delusional altruism.

Delusional altruism is when you are genuinely trying to help people – but paying absolutely no attention to the operational inefficiency and waste that drains grantseekers or your own foundation of the human and financial capital necessary to accomplish your goals.

Let me give you three examples:

1. A foundation gives itself five weeks to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) that it has already written, but gives grantseekers only three weeks to apply. Five different departments within a large national foundation each had a week to modify – or simply sign off on – an RFP. By contrast, each applicant had to decide whether to apply, decide whether to do so jointly with other invited applicants, develop the proposal concept (possibly in collaboration), write the proposal, and get written commitments of matching funding – all within three weeks.

2. A foundation evaluation director sends an RFP to 50 evaluators to conduct a $40,000 evaluation. The evaluation director had prequalified a “mere” 50 evaluators and therefore received an overwhelming volume of proposals that he had to sort through and vet. Then he had to determine finalists and interview them, all before he could make a decision and actually hire someone.This left him exhausted, overwhelmed, and behind on other projects. It probably took him six months, whereas the evaluation itself could have been done in that time. He and his associate likely spent half of the $40,000 project fee just in their own staff time.

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The Role of Design and 'Design Thinking' in Philanthropy

December 05, 2012

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly, an award-winning philanthropy consultant, evaluator, and speaker, is the principal author of the popular Philanthropy411 blog, where this post originally appeared.)

At the turn of the twenty-first century, after decades of percolation in academia, the concept of "design thinking" began to appear in popular business literature and conversation. Although finding a clear, consistent explanation of design thinking is rather like asking bridesmaids to agree on the perfect shade of blue, Wikipedia gave it a shot:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

Ill-defined problems. Combining empathy, creativity, and rationality in developing a solution. Sounds perfect for philanthropy, doesn't it? It's no wonder, then, that as design thinking has become manifest in the business world, it's beginning to pique the interest of the funding community.

In a recent conversation with Kyle Reis, Manager for Strategy and Operations at the Ford Foundation, we pondered the question of how foundations might partner with design communities to help them learn how to more fundamentally and intentionally integrate design and design thinking into their work.

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Advancing the Next Generation: EPIP's Impact on Philanthropy

April 11, 2011

(Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference in Philadelphia with the help of a blog team. This is a joint post by Rusty Stahl, executive director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and Kris Putnam-Walkerly, president of Putnam Community Investment Consulting, Inc., and is re-posted here with their permission.)

Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) is an affinity group of the Council on Foundations. Its mission is to develop extraordinary new leaders to enhance organized philanthropy and its impact on communities. EPIP released the findings of its 2011 Impact Assessment (32 pages, PDF), in conjunction with its 10th anniversary and national conference held in Philadelphia. Last week we highlighted seven ways EPIP provides support and opportunities for emerging leaders in philanthropy. Below we share six key findings about EPIP's impact on the broader field of philanthropy.

1) EPIP's focus on multigenerationalism has had a positive impact on philanthropy.

  • Ninety-seven percent (97%) of survey respondents reported that as a result of EPIP, there is increased interaction and dialogue between senior and new foundation staff
  • 95% said they believe philanthropy has benefited from EPIP's efforts to prepare the next generation of leaders.
  • They also reported that young or new foundation staff now have more opportunity to get involved in philanthropy (60%) and that these staff are more active in the field than they were before (50%).

    "To the extent that you care about the future of philanthropy, you've got to care about the next generation of philanthropic leaders. EPIP represents a group from which the next generation of philanthropic leadership will be drawn." -- Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President, Annie E. Casey Foundation

2) EPIP has expanded professional and leadership development opportunities for emerging practitioners.

  • 60% of survey respondents believed that EPIP increased the opportunities for involvement in philanthropy for young or new foundation staff.
  • Almost all (98%) believed that EPIP has been "somewhat to very effective" in increasing the presence and participation of new, emerging staff at philanthropy conferences and in increasing the number of sessions and workshops for and about younger/new foundation staff at conferences.

    "Being part of the EPIP network helped me hone my leadership skills and take risks in my career. I was able to build relationships outside of my region and state and was able to apply those leadership skills not just in my own foundation but on a national scale, which allowed my national network to flourish." -- Melissa Johnson, Executive Director, Neighborhood Funders Group

3) Employers benefit from EPIP's contributions to professional development.

  • 75% of EPIP members surveyed reported making positive contributions to their organizations as a result of their involvement with EPIP.
  • This includes becoming more confident in taking on more responsibilities (37%), becoming better able to advocate for issues they feel are important in their foundations (24%), and learning ways to do their jobs more effectively (23%).

    "From my perspective as the executive director, our staff who have been engaged with EPIP have brought a capacity for bold vision and for confident and competent leadership." -- Ned Wight, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

4) EPIP brings value to national and regional associations of grantmakers.

  • EPIP has collaborated with a wide range of funder networks, including 11 regional associations of grantmakers (in the locations of all its chapters), national affinity groups, and the Council on Foundations.
  • According to those interviewed, EPIP provides value because these associations can leverage EPIP’s network of next generation leaders, expertise, and infrastructure.

    "For affinity groups that want to engage younger and newer foundation staff, it makes sense to partner with EPIP rather than reinvent all the work yourself." -- Carly Hare, Executive Director, Native Americans in Philanthropy

5) EPIP fills an important need in educating and orienting those new to philanthropy.

  • Many senior leaders and EPIP members interviewed described the need to "demystify" philanthropy and grantmaking work, and to orient those new to philanthropy.
  • This was recognized as an important need that EPIP helps to fill, with several executive directors stating appreciation that their staff has a venue for learning about the field beyond their own institutions.

    "Increasing the pipeline of people who are familiar with philanthropy -- familiar with how it works, its challenges, and its opportunities -- is an important service to the field. I think it is a great opportunity for philanthropic institutions to pay attention to EPIP, and to make sure that we're connected with them, and helping them place the people that they're training." -- Luz Vega Marquis, CEO, Marguerite Casey Foundation

6) EPIP brings increased attention to social justice philanthropy.

  • About one-third said they feel that there is increased dialogue and awareness in the field about social justice philanthropy as a result of EPIP (36%)
  • 30% reported that as a result of EPIP there is increased attention on racial, gender, and class diversity at foundations.

    "The EPIP conference is probably one of the most diverse cross-sections of people that I've ever seen in a philanthropic meeting, and social justice philanthropy is integrated into all the sessions. This requires courage and commitment. To see that social justice is front and center at EPIP gives me hope in the next generation of philanthropists." -- Daniel Jae-Won Lee, Executive Director, Levi Strauss Foundation

EPIP's 2011 Impact Assessment was conducted by Putnam Community Investment Consulting, Inc. It included a national survey of EPIP members, alumni, prospective members, and partners; in-depth interviews with twelve active members and ten senior philanthropy leaders who have partnered with EPIP; and a review of existing EPIP data and documents. To learn more about EPIP's impact, read the full report.

15 Ways to Improve Grantee Communication at Your Foundation

August 16, 2010

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly is founder and president of Putnam Community Investment Consulting, Inc. Her blog, Philanthropy 411, and Twitter feed are widely followed by practitioners and thought leaders in the sector. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Effective_communication02 The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2009. Though its ratings with respect to both consistency and clarity of communication were statistically similar to or higher than those of other foundations, comments and suggestions from grantees indicated room for improvement in communication between staff and grantees. CHCF decided to retain Putnam Community Investment Consulting to identify ways to improve its communications with grantees. Our focus, in turn, was to analyze the results of CHCF's Grantee Perception Report and to conduct further research that included assessing the grantee communications practices of CHCF program staff and other foundations, as well as examining the presentation of grantee resources on its Web site.

Why? Because clear communication with grantees matters. According to CEP:

Grantees are typically a foundation's chosen agents of change, selected for their ability to create impact. The better a foundation can communicate its goals and strategies to grantees, the more effective these partnerships will be -- and the more likely grantees will be to perform in ways that are consistent with the foundation’s goals....

Effective communication with grantees is not just the job of program staff, but of staff at all levels of the foundation -- from administrative assistants, to human resources, communications, evaluation, and executive staff. CHCF certainly subscribed to this idea when it embarked on a review of its grantee communications practices. Below are fifteen recommendations for improving grantee communications that resulted from that effort (the full report, Improving Communication Between Foundation Staff and Grantees, is available for download):

1. Consistently communicate your foundation's goals and strategies through both written and verbal communication with applicants and grantees.

2. Regularly discuss grantee communications challenges, best practices, and grantseeker feedback survey results at program team and staff meetings. You can also encourage regular meetings of program officer/program assistant teams to discuss the status of proposals, grants, and grantees, and even organize formal discussions for program assistants to share their strategies for successful grantee communications and to troubleshoot communications problems.

3. Ensure program staff has adequate time and resources for consistent grantee communications and for building strong relationships with grantees.

4. Incorporate grantee communications into staff performance appraisals.

5. Conduct regular grantee satisfaction surveys to keep grantee experiences at the forefront and to track progress in making improvements.

6. Pay special attention to communications measures identified by CEP that support grantee satisfaction and effective communication. These measures include the quality of interactions with foundation staff, clarity of communication of a foundation's goals and strategy, foundation expertise in its chosen field(s), consistency among communications resources, and selection and reporting processes that are helpful to grantees.

7. Make sure program staff consistently direct grantseekers to grant guidelines, templates, and other resources designed to help them.

8. Spend time talking with grantseekers about: (1) your selection process and timeline; and (2) the foundation's and applicant's expectations (e.g., for final deliverables, reporting, communication during the grant period) before a grant proposal is finalized.

9. If multiple foundation staff will be working with the same grantee, be sure they coordinate their communication and expectations and represent a "single voice" emanating from your foundation.

10. Develop a grantee communication checklist for program staff. We created one for CHCF that you can download and modify to meet your foundation's needs.

11. Compare your funding guidelines against the common characteristics of highly successful funding guidelines developed by CEP. Make adjustments to your guidelines as appropriate.

12. Consider conducting/organizing a communications audit and/or Web site usability focus group.

13. Solicit grantee feedback when making improvements to funding guidelines and/or your Web site.

14. Ensure that funding guidelines and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) make a clear connection between the funding opportunity and your foundation's goals and strategies.

15. Make sure it's easy for grantseekers to find information on your Web site about how to apply for a grant.

You can learn more about the California HealthCare Foundation's efforts to improve its grantee communications and assess impact here.

Has your foundation made efforts to improve its communications with grantees? If so, what worked? If you work for a nonprofit, what foundation communication strategies work best for you? And what would you like to see foundations do differently? Use the comments section to share your thoughts and ideas!

-- Kris Putnam-Walkerly

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