Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

120 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

Weekend Link Roundup (May 20-21, 2017)

May 22, 2017

Pause-button-2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Does your organization have a strategy for dealing with the media? To help its members think beyond the press release, dispel misperceptions about working with the media, and provide practical guidance on how to approach this powerful medium, Exponent Philanthropy has released A Funder's Guide to Engaging With the Media, which includes the five building block of a successful media strategy highlighted in this post on the organization's PhilanthroFiles blog.

"Why do so many nonprofits take on the burden of producing the equivalent of a magazine a month [i.e., your monthly newsletter] that gets an average 1.5 percent click through rate and 14 percent open rate?" That's one of the controversial questions Ally Dommu poses in a post on the Big Duck site. Before you do anything rash, take a look at some of the other questions Dommu poses in her post and read the half a dozen or so comments submitted in response to her post.

Education

Budget documents obtained by the Washington Post offer the clearest picture yet of how the Trump administration intends to shrink the federal government's role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children's schools. Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report

Environment

In his first four months as president, Donald Trump has walked back many of the promises he made to supporters on the campaign trail. One thing is absolutely clear, however: he is committed to rolling back a half-century of environmental regulations and protections supported, at different times, by majorities in both parties. And that, according to the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, puts him at odds with a majority of Americans.

Global Health

On the Devex site, Rebecca Root shares five key takeaways from her conversations with attendees at the recent G-20 meeting on global health innovation.

Grantmaking

Evidence has been a buzzword in philanthropy for the better part of twenty years now, writes Forbes contributor Jake Heyman. "And yet no such demand for evidence is applied to the work of funders themselves, be they philanthropists, corporate donors or foundations. [Instead, a] typical funder journey seems to be identifying an area of perceived need, finding a program/organization that is judged to counter that need, and then throwing an arbitrary amount of money at it."

Would grantmaking be more effective if it was focused on identifying and supporting critical "inflection point" interventions? The Heckscher Foundation for Children's Peter Sloane thinks so and, in a post here on PhilanTopic, explains why.

Higher Education

"Good boards ask good questions, and great boards ask great questions." But at many colleges and universities, "[t]oo many boards struggle with asking questions at all, let alone asking good or great questions," write Peter Eckel and Cathy Trower in Inside Higher Education. Instead, "[s]tatements, not questions, frequently carry the day. Why? [Boards] lack sufficient curiosity."

International Affairs/Development

Are foreign aid and charitable giving to help the poor in developing countries part of the problem rather than the solution? On the MIT News site, Amy MacMillan Bankson chats with Mark Weber, and MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management and producer of the award-winning documentary Poverty, Inc., about the pros and cons of the global charity model.

Leadership

What are the traits nonprofit leaders need in today's uncertain environment? The Forbes Nonprofit Council, an invitation-only organization for nonprofit CEOs, asked seven of its members for their thoughts.

Philanthropy

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther shares highlights of a recent conversation he had with Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in which Heintz updated Gunther on RBF's divestment process, discussed its approach to mission-aligned investing, and talked about why a foundation built by a nineteenth-century fortune should persist into the twenty-first century.

Contributions to the Obama Foundation jumped to more than $13 million in 2016, according to an IRS filing released a couple of weeks ago, and they're expected to skyrocket in 2017 with the lifting of a self-imposed $1 million cap on donations. Lynn Sweet reports for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Institutional philanthropy may have gotten used to the idea of itself as "risk capital," but it has a lot of work to do to turn the idea into reality, write the Rockefeller Foundation's Pam Foster and Ellen Taus — and that includes working with grantees to get them to become more comfortable talking about the risks inherent in their proposals.

Tax Policy

And in his weekly syndicated column, Denver Post columnist Bruce DeBoskey weighs in with a good overview of what proposed changes to federal tax policy could mean for donors and nonprofits.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

A Call for Inflection Point Funding

May 15, 2017

Broken_ladder"A strategic inflection point is the time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

– Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It's always been important to think about how private philanthropy can fill gaps in the social safety net that government, with its lower risk tolerance, cannot. At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we're increasingly attracted to inflection point funding — not a new concept but an approach that provides a different lens through which to look at our efforts. What makes inflection point funding interesting, in my opinion, is that, in addition to strategic partnerships with other funders, catalytic initiatives, and targeted solutions, it forces us to look hard at the obstacles that keep low-income youth from realizing their full potential.

Inflection point funding seeks to change the course of young people's lives at key junctures. I think of it as a ladder offering underserved children a way out of poverty. A child may move easily through the early stages of development, but at some point a rung in her development ladder will be missing or broken. Then what? In too many cases, she gets tired or discouraged and stops trying to climb.

Most of us are familiar with the ladder metaphor. Less familiar are the challenges so many disadvantaged and underserved kids face when trying to climb the ladder to success. Suppose, however, that with philanthropic support, we could develop solutions that enabled every underserved child to reach the next rung, and the rung after that, and the rung after that (or even the first rung). If you look at inflection point funding as a way to support kids who desperately want to climb the ladder to a brighter future, you'll understand why we're attracted to it as an approach.

That said, it isn't always easy to identify inflection point opportunities. There are no guidelines, only questions in need of answers. My own first question always is: Could our funding for a strategic intervention create opportunities for  young people to reach new heights? And, conversely, could the failure to solve the problem lead to other obstacles and challenges for the young people we were hoping to help?

The next question I usually ask is whether or not we can identify and isolate a solution to a problem that, metaphorically speaking, can function like a rung in a ladder. The key to that is to determine whether the solution under consideration is practicable. We all know, for example, that crime is rooted in poverty and deprivation. But that doesn't really help us figure out how to invest our philanthropic dollars in solving crime. Poverty and deprivation are not problems a single foundation can address on a large enough scale. So, instead, we look for fixable problems. If, for example, you say that underserved kids often go hungry, that's not a problem any one foundation can fix. But if the problem is that kids, during the summer months, do not benefit from free school breakfast and lunch programs, then that is a problem that can be addressed. And in New York City, to a significant degree, we've done just that with a three-year targeted outreach solution involving the distribution of refrigeration units, flyers, and posters that increased participation in the city's Summer Meals Program by 31 percent.

Where are some other inflection point opportunities we think are worth funding? Here are three we are considering:

Youth library fines. Hundreds of thousands of New York City children cannot check books out of the library because they have outstanding fines of less than $15. The majority of these children live in poor neighborhoods. In our view, these fines operate in a punitive manner, preventing young people from borrowing books and research materials needed for assignments that can only be completed outside library hours. When most students in New York City do not have access to an in-school library, it becomes painfully clear that this a problem in need of a solution. To the credit of the city's library systems, some fixes have been tried. But we continue to think this is a problem in need of a creative solution.

College emergency-grants programs. Each year, college students in good academic standing are forced to withdraw from school because of economic setbacks unrelated to their school work or the burden of tuition — including medical expenses, housing or textbook costs, and transportation issues. Without the earning power that a degree can provide, many of these young people will struggle. The Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation sought to address this problem by establishing emergency-grant programs at each of the sixteen member colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System. During the three-year grant period, nearly twenty-seven hundred students received emergency grants averaging $500 each. College-reported data indicates that over the three years of the program, 73 percent of Pell Grant-eligible emergency-grant recipients either graduated from or remained  in school and on track to a degree. By comparison, the National Center for Education Statistics reports a 59 percent retention rate for all students attending a public two-year institution in the U.S. Given the modest cost of such initiatives, this strikes us as an opportunity worth devoting more resources to.

Diagnosing and treating dyslexia in kindergarten. The diagnosis of developmental dyslexia in underserved children is primarily based on a "wait to fail approach." Despite the fact that studies show that intensive interventions are most effective in kindergarten or first grade, and other studies show that up to 92 percent of at-risk beginning readers, when provided intensive instruction, achieve average reading ability levels, dyslexia diagnoses are usually not made before the third grade. In other words, the current system doesn't help kids until they have fallen behind and interventions are likely to be less effective. Education experts, however, are developing an app that diagnoses dyslexia and will be easy for professionals and others to use at preschools, camps, or even in a home setting. If a risk of dyslexia is detected, the app directs the user to tools and websites that provide teaching resources as well as intervention programs. To us, this sounds like an opportunity for inflection point funding.

If a simple test for dyslexia in kindergarten can prevent years of reading and learning loss, what other fixable problems can we address that will help low-income families and kids gain access to needed services and interventions? The more rungs on the ladder that the philanthropic community can identify, fix, and/or strengthen — and there are many — the better. With relatively modest investments at strategic inflection points, funders can, and often do, make a significant difference in underserved children's lives and future success.

Peter_sloane_for_PhilanTopicPeter Sloane is chairman and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children.

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

Much of the code we write here at Foundation Center makes use of open-source tools. Foundation Maps uses JavaScript and PHP to run the pages you see in the Maps application, and both of those scripting languages are the product of long-running open-source collaborations. In my work, I also employ various machine-learning techniques (more details on machine learning coming in a future blog post!) that use open-source tools such as scikit-learn and Keras.

Indeed, given the increasingly important role played by open-source tools and software in our efforts, the Application Development team at Foundation Center has agreed that it's time for us to share some of the tools and code we've created with the broader philanthropic community. Our rationale is simple: not only will it lead to new ideas and use-cases for the code behind those tools, it will help us improve the quality of our own software.

This isn't a new approach. Tech companies have benefited from making their tools available through open source for some time now. In 2015, Google released TensorFlow, a machine-learning tool that enables developers to easily build neural networks (a type of artificial intelligence). And even though Google continues to use the TensorFlow tool internally for its own projects, including speech and image recognition applications, turning the tool over to the broader machine-learning community led the company to make improvements to it, some of which may not have been caught (or thought of) by Google engineers. It's a win-win, in that it benefits the machine-learning community by providing direct access to a powerful tool developed by Google, and it benefits Google by facilitating the continuous improvement of projects that millions of the company's users rely on.

But it's not just Silicon Valley that benefits from open sourcing. A colleague and I recently attended a workshop in London for Open-Ag funders, an initiative to end hunger and food insecurity and reduce poverty globally by ensuring that development actors working in agriculture and food security have the data they need to make smarter investments. We were encouraged by the large number of programmers at the workshop eager to contribute to making the field of agricultural funding more transparent and accessible through code, and we left the event convinced that open-source projects, because they lower barriers for people and organizations not on the cutting-edge of technology, are the wave of the future in both philanthropy and development.

The center's contribution to the Open-Ag workshop was a pledge to build an open-source application for the field. The app will allow anyone to enter a snippet of text — a mission statement, for example — and, using the magic of machine learning, determine how their work aligns with various aspects of the funding universe for sustainable agriculture and development. (For an example of what we have in mind, check out this SDG Indicator Wizard we built for the SDG Philanthropy Platform.) When completed, the app not only will be available to the public, but the code base behind the app will be made available on GitHub.

At Foundation Center, we are committed to leading the charge for greater transparency in philanthropy through the use of data, and we hope the Open-Ag project is the first of many open-source code projects we're able to collaborate on with the broader community (making us a leader in transparency through the sharing of code, as well). As we release projects to the public over the coming months and years, users will be able to access the code on GitHub at https://github.com/fcappdev. (And note to programmers: you'll be able to fork our projects for your own development needs.)

We're excited about our entry into the world of open source, and we look forward to both sharing, and receiving, contributions from other programmers out there. Feel free to drop us a note in the comments section below if you have any questions about our open-source initiative, or if you'd like to be a part of it.

Headshot_david_hollanderDavid Hollander is a data scientist at Foundation Center. For more posts in our FC Insight series, click here.

5 Questions for...Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation

May 04, 2017

Since joining the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia Juech has led the foundation's efforts to identify and assess new, large-scale opportunities for impact across the foundation's priority areas and spearheaded its horizon scanning activities, informing both strategy and programs.

Recently, PND spoke with Juech about Rockefeller's "scan and search" activities, an approach the foundation is using to bring more diverse voices into the earliest stages of its work, ensure that all early-stage decisions are based on the best available evidence, and ultimately do the most good with the resources it has.

Headshot_Claudia_JuechPhilanthropy News Digest: What were the factors that led Rockefeller to adopt the "scan and search" approach? What are its benefits over more conventional approaches to philanthropic investment? And has your background in finance shaped your thinking about what the foundation can and should do to maximize its impact?

Claudia Juech: We wanted to develop a tool that would help the foundation generate the most impact for its investment — and to do that, to truly achieve transformative change, we needed to cast a wider net. That entailed a couple of things: in addition to being guided by our in-house experts, we realized we needed to reach out and listen to a broader spectrum of voices, and to look at problem areas that we hadn't considered previously. And we wanted to find ways to put the "winds of change" at our back — to identify changes that were already happening and could help us achieve our impact goals.

In comparison to more conventional philanthropic approaches, it's very open-ended and opportunity-driven. Rather than settling on a strategy or approach beforehand — say, increasing agricultural productivity — and then doing research to confirm our assumptions, we look at problems affecting vulnerable populations and try to keep an open mind in terms of deciding which issues we want to work on and how.

We're looking at big spaces, big fields, big problems where we want to make big bets. And there are a couple of things from my experience at Deutsche Bank, where I was responsible for trend monitoring, that I've tried to apply to my work here — using futures methodologies, for example, to predict "winds of change" trends. We start by looking quickly at about a hundred options, potential big bets, and then winnow them down to those we think will generate the biggest bang for our buck. I see some similarities with venture philanthropy in the belief that not every investment will have the impact you want, and that you look across a wide range of options and try to place informed bets. We look at a broad range of options, from cybersecurity concerns for the poor, to issues of energy poverty, to urban food insecurity, to neglected tropical diseases, and we ask where we could make the most headway, and what we can bring to the table in terms of our assets and competencies. Eventually we'll move on to dedicated, rigorous research and stakeholder consultation on a short list of options.

PND: What are some of the challenges you faced in shifting to the "scan and search" approach — internally with foundation staff, as well as externally, with grantees? And are there any lessons you could share with the field?

CJ: I think the short answer is that the work is not any easier with this approach. It might provide a broader array of opportunities and in the end lead to better results, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a "silver bullet," any more than other approaches would. We've learned a couple of things, though. Internally, there have been a lot of questions about the staff's "ownership," engagement, and role in shaping these ideas. Typically, our investment ideas had been developed by, for example, someone leading the foundation's agricultural program, so when a separate "scan and search" team was tasked with casting a wider net for ideas, well, it initially created some tensions and challenges. It was a change-management process for the first two years. And in some ways I feel that tensions will always exist around mechanisms designed to ensure that outside perspectives are included in the planning process and that we don't fall into programmatic silos, which is one of the things scan and search is meant to address.

Over the years, we've developed different processes designed to bring in our colleagues and their expertise. We work closely with our in-house experts, who are our partners and advisors in the work of surfacing new ideas, and we use various facilitation methods, internal huddles, ideation meetings, and the like. In fact, some of those methods are now being used after the work has progressed to a later phase. So, we've advanced the work of the foundation not only substantively but also methodologically.

Externally, because scan and search is used in the very early stages of the initiative pipeline, the implications for grantees have not been that dramatic. We reach out to a broader universe beyond our grantees, to experts and people who can provide insights or who are directly affected by the problem. Although often the work we do ends up informing the work our grantees are doing as well.

Continue reading »

Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

_____

"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (March 2017)

April 04, 2017

Maybe the nicest thing we can say about March was that it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. If the lion's share of your media consumption during the month was devoted to March Madness (of the sports or political variety) and you missed out on your regular PhilanTopic reading, well, here's your chance to catch up.

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.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 4-5, 2017)

March 06, 2017

No_noiseOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

"The right of artists and journalists to tweak the nose of power, to challenge what we believe, to criticize those in high places, to hold accountable people who otherwise might anoint themselves kings, cannot be abridged because we find it at times uncomfortable," writes Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant on the foundation's Point blog. And the "very real possibility that the tiny levels of federal spending for the NEA, NEH and CPB will be eliminated has...obviously nothing to do with balancing budgets or fiscal prudence. It is an attack, pure and simple, on independent and potentially critical voices. It is an expression of disdain for the magical ability of art and journalism to knit our country and its people back together again, and of cowardly antipathy toward those who dare speak unpleasant truths to power...."

Civil Society

Citing efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, proposed budget cuts to the IRS, pending anti-protest bills in at least sixteen states, the renewed drive to kill net neutrality, and other developments, Lucy Bernholz argues in a post on her Philanthropy 2173 that "[c]ivil society in the U.S. is being deliberately undermined" and that, just like current attacks on the press, these efforts "are both deliberate and purpose-built."

Education

In this Comcast Newsmaker video (running time, 5:09), Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson discusses the drivers behind the foundation's early childhood work in Detroit.

Fundraising

Looking to hire a fundraising consultant? Consultant Aly Sterling has put together a nice presentation with a dozen "essential" tips for you to consider and keep in mind.

Giving

The folks at @Pay have the answers to your questions about online giving platforms.

Continue reading »

A Surprising Prize: Passion and Vision

November 17, 2016

3d-vision-passion-crossword-textThe Rathmann Challenge is helping to address the basic needs of two million kids across the country. Maybe someday soon the Challenge will assist in cooling the earth’s temperature.

Having constructed a hybrid granting vehicle that we hoped would provide all the upside of prize philanthropy while minimizing the downside (see Part I, "Small Dollars, Big Ideas"), all we needed now was to figure out the problem we wanted to address with our first Rathmann Challenge. We knew our founders had their passions with respect to philanthropic objectives, so we turned to the foundation’s grant history over the last twenty-five years for guidance. There were grants to the arts, to healthcare, to dog parks, to…well, everything imaginable. Fortunately, there was one piece of data that stood out; approximately 50 percent of our total funding was directed, in one manner or another, to education. Coupled with the involvement in that field by a number of foundation members, we had the subject of our first Challenge.

Education. Perfect…except, not so much. What problem could we possibly solve related to education that the likes of the Gates and Annenberg foundations had not already addressed — and, with four log orders more money!

The only way to find out was to pick up the phone and start calling every person we knew in the field. Soon, anecdotes were streaming in from all over, and they led us to two words: Basic Needs. Stories about kids missing classes because they had no way to get to school, being too distracted to learn because they hadn't eaten a solid meal or hadn't had a safe place to sleep for days, or feeling ashamed because they lacked the resources to buy a pencil and notebook, let alone a backpack. The more we listened, the more we learned about the endless number of missing essentials interfering with kids' ability to be ready for learning. Someone, somewhere, had to have come up with a solution to at least one of these problems.

Continue reading »

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).

Continue reading »

A Surprising Prize: Small Dollars, Big Ideas

November 14, 2016

BigIdeasThe Rathmann Challenge is helping to address the basic needs of two million kids across the country. Maybe someday soon the Challenge will assist in cooling the earth’s temperature.

My family has been fortunate in the for-profit world to experience firsthand how a relatively small amount of money, if applied well (and with some luck), can launch a big idea. Would the same hold true for the nonprofit world? The Rathmann Challenge is a grantmaking tool devised for that purpose — finding good ideas that might scale to create value for many.

As with other family foundations, our founders were gracious, kind, and…a powerful influence. After their departure, we needed new options for going forward that would honor their creativity, entrepreneurial ethos, and innovative spirit. At its core, the Rathmann Challenge is like any other prize philanthropy program — with all the pluses and minuses. It garners attention by highlighting an issue of the day and then making an award ($100k in this case) to one winner ("the Challenge Recipient"). This is great news for the Challenge Recipient, of course, but not so great news for all the others who spent time working on their applications and received nothing. Perhaps even worse, all the great attention the prize brings to an important problem fades quickly after the excitement of the initial award. We wondered whether the model could be tweaked. Was there a way to make the Challenge a little less "winner take all" and a little more "applicant beneficial?" The simplest and most direct method would be to pay a small stipend to each applicant for applying, but the likely effect on the quality of our applicant pool was concerning. We needed instead to devise a process that, by its very nature, would create value for each applicant willing to put the resources into applying.

Three principles guided our efforts. First, the difficulty of each step of the process had to mirror the likelihood of success for the applicant at that stage. Second, the application itself needed to serve as a tool to help organizations promote existing internal practices that addressed the interests of funding organizations like ours (e.g., the ability to think critically and provide an honest self-assessment about past successes and failures). And, third, the criteria for a winning application needed to prompt each organization to spend time considering ways to scale their impact in the future (and thereby motivate and inspire strategic planning irrespective of the organization’s success in the Challenge).

Continue reading »

Philanthropy Isn't the Answer to Bad Government

November 02, 2016

Decline_loss_downDeclining state revenue in the face of growing needs in education, health, child welfare, and infrastructure is leading many to look to philanthropy to fill these gaps. As the Houston Chronicle editorial board recently noted in urging the Houston Independent School District to accept $7.5 million from the Kinder Foundation, "philanthropic gifts are needed in an environment where the state legislature is abdicating its constitutional responsibility."

As presidents of two of the largest Houston-based philanthropies, that statement sounded an alarm for us because philanthropy cannot, and should not, replace government spending on public goods and services. According to The Giving Institute, U.S. philanthropy hit a record-setting peak in 2015, when donations reached $373.3 billion. The federal budget for 2016 is $3.95 trillion.

Simply put, philanthropy is a relative drop in the bucket. There is no conceivable way to make up for inadequate public spending through philanthropy.

Locally, HISD is facing a $162 million loss in revenue due to the state's public education funding system, and we are spending $70 million in Harris County property tax revenue due to the state's refusal to accept federal funds to insure low-income citizens.

Our foundations' missions are broader in geography and scope. But even if we focused all our efforts on these two government-generated shortfalls, the amount needed is more than twice our combined annual budgets. Sound public policy, not philanthropy, is the solution to these problems.

Continue reading »

How the Lack of Market Feedback Puts Foundations at Risk and What Some Funders Are Doing About It

October 06, 2016

FeedbackQuick: What's the difference between a private foundation and a public charity? To answer, you could consult the Internal Revenue Code, or you might just as easily say: "One has money and the other needs it."

This simple truth carries profound consequences for foundation decision-making and culture, through the impact of market feedback — or the lack thereof. A private foundation (generally an independent, endowed grantmaking entity) has a fundamentally different and weaker market feedback loop than either a for-profit business or a public charity (generally an operating nonprofit). Even the smallest business receives regular feedback from its market in the form of changes in sales. In order to maintain its tax status, a public charity must constantly attract public resources to put toward its mission — and the response to these efforts is a very real, ongoing, and often painful example of market feedback. A nonprofit unable to attract sufficient funds faces an existential crisis. Negative market feedback in the form of inadequate resources presents the organization with an imperative: either change in ways that will attract the necessary resources, or risk economic failure.

In a striking contrast, no such feedback loop exists for a private foundation. Because its resources were provided by a donor in an endowment at the outset of its existence, there is never a question of economic failure. Put more simply: to survive, a private foundation need not operate successful programs or make effective grants; it need not manage its staff well, engage its board in generative thinking, or meaningfully participate in larger conversations about its work. So long as it achieves the low bar set by the law (meeting payout requirements, paying excise tax, etc.), it has nothing to fear. The only external measure of its success is whether it remains in good standing with the IRS and the state in which it is incorporated. Beyond that, accountability begins and ends with itself.

This unique situation is a source of jealousy, impatience, and frustration among nonprofit leaders, who find it hard to imagine a world not dominated by their continuous need to fundraise. For the foundation, however, this insularity removes one of the most valuable inputs for any organization: frequent, timely, and accurate market feedback.

Continue reading »

Advancing Women's Economic Security

October 03, 2016

WFN_DSP_discoverIn Tennessee, the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis is working to reduce poverty by 5 percent over five years in a zip code, 38126, where 62 percent of adults and 76 percent of children live at or below the poverty line.

In Chicago, 460,000 workers now have paid sick leave thanks to the work of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a coalition of community, faith-based, women's advocacy, and labor organizations.

In Massachusetts, the Women's Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts piloted a support program that helped Jamielee, a mother of two young children, get a car — and on the path to a college degree and employment, along with 76 percent of the program's participants.

These are just a few of the things that women's foundations across the United States are doing to advance women's economic security.

In September, the Women's Funding Network unveiled a new Economic Security Digital Storytelling Platform to highlight the important work our members are doing for women and girls around the world. The site allows visitors to explore economic security data and grantmaking strategies, as well as powerful stories of the women, programs, and organizations that are driving and creating positive change for women.

Continue reading »

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

As we enter the homestretch of another year that has flown by, we have good news and bad news. First the bad: There are still thirty-seven days left in this election cycle. On the good-news front, you all dug into the PhilanTopic archive and surfaced a couple of wonderful items from the past, including a terrific post by Small Change author Michael Edwards (one of three in an excellent series Michael wrote for us) and a sharp review of Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education by Michael Weston-Murphy. You also liked Stephen Pratt's sensible advice vis-à-vis metrics and measurement, Kris Putnam-Walkerly's exhortation to grantmakers, and Matt's Q&A with Markle Foundation president Zoë Baird. As for that pesky thing called time, I like (but don't always follow) the great Satchel Paige's advice: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (September 17-18 2016)

September 18, 2016

Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

End-of-summerCommunications/Marketing

Did the board of the Wounded Warrior Project blunder by firing CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giardano in response to allegations in the media that the organization was spending too much on itself and too little on those it was supposed to help? Forbes contributor Richard Levick reports.

Education

On openDemocracy's Transformations blog, Megan Tompkins-Stange, assistant professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School, University of Michigan and author of the recently published Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence, argues that billionaire philanthropists are imposing their views on the rest of society with little or no accountability for their actions.

Giving Pledge

Dean and Marianne Metropoulos of Greenwich, Connecticut, are the newest members of the Giving Pledge club.

Grantmaking

Guest blogging on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jessica Bearman, principal of Bearman Consulting and a consultant to the Grants Managers Network, suggests that foundations intentionally moving to integrate operations and program have five essential characteristics in common.

Grantseeking

On the GuideStar blog, Martin Teitel, author of The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants and a former CEO of the Cedar Tree Foundation, shares his six-step formula for winning a grant.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • " [P]rivileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance....[F]reedom comes only through persistent revolt...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs