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109 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

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.

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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.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

Entering the homestretch of another year that has flown by, and 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

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....


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.


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.


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.


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.

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You Can Connect the Dots for Global Philanthropy

September 16, 2016

ConnectthedotsData is something we all want. Data, though, is not something we can all have... not right now, at least. In order for data to be collected, processed, analyzed, and shared — all while taking into account individual country contexts around the world — the data has to exist in the first place. This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked, especially in a global context. For example, we simply don't know what kind of impact foundations in Kenya are having in a sector like health, or what funds they are directing to various issues and how that compares to the impact and spending by government programs or international aid. As a result, we have no way of knowing whether philanthropy is making a difference or if there's a way those dollars could be used more effectively. That's the case not just in Kenya, but in countries across the global North and South. And the reason we don't have a complete picture of the philanthropic sector's contribution to and role within the development ecosystem is because there is a lack of data skills and a data culture in philanthropy. Not just a small gap; it's a pretty big one.

In order to tackle these issues, Foundation Center has developed a program to partner with philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world to create a culture of data, build much-needed data management capacity, and create and use data to drive more effective development and grantmaking outcomes. The program also aims to strengthen the efforts of local foundations and associations of foundations to develop their own long-term, sustainable, in-country data strategies, better understand and fill their capacity needs through skills development, and highlight and provide tools to help foundations work with data more effectively.

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Mind the Gap! Bridging Funder and Grantee Approaches to Measurement

September 14, 2016

Methods of measurementsOver the past thirty years, the total value of philanthropic assets in the United States has more than doubled, while the poverty rate has remained unchanged and income inequality has grown.

There are lots of reasons for this lack of progress, but facts like that make it hard to argue that foundations and nonprofits are successfully pursuing an anti-poverty mission.

At Root Cause, we believe a big reason nonprofits and foundations struggle to create the change we all seek is their failure to articulate the hypotheses underlying their approach to change, to use data to test those hypotheses, and to use the results of those tests to refine those approaches and build a body of evidence about what works.

For the past year, I've been making the rounds at regional and national conferences to talk about why measurement and evaluation matter. I've also had the chance to sit down with dozens of nonprofit and foundation leaders for extended conversations about what's at stake here.

The good news is that many foundation and nonprofit leaders share our point of view and have a real sense of urgency about using data and evidence to improve nonprofit practice and achieve better results.

The bad news is that everyone seems to be on a different page. Even among those pursuing a performance-measurement agenda, there is little in the way of dialogue, transparency, or knowledge sharing. Nonprofits develop theories of change in isolation, as if meaningful change happens through a single intervention here or a single intervention there, while funders articulate their own theories of change without much regard for what their grantees are doing.

The result: a boatload of metrics gets collected but neither funder nor grantee gains much insight into what works or how their efforts can be leveraged to drive real, systemic change.

What to do? We'd like to suggest the following:

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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?


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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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2016)

August 06, 2016

Sort of like that great little farm stand that pulls you in every time you drive by, our roundup of the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July offers lots of delicious food for thought. So pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade and dig in!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

5 Questions for…June Wilson, Executive Director, Quixote Foundation

July 11, 2016

Named for Cervantes’ fictional knight errant, the Quixote Foundation was established in 1997 by Stuart Hanisch, a civil rights activist and documentary filmmaker who poured his family’s wealth into social causes. With a mission "to see free people in fair societies on a healthy planet," the Seattle-based foundation has been focused on progressive causes in the areas of the environment, reproductive rights, civil and human rights, and media reform.

In 2010, Quixote announced it would spend down — or, as the foundation puts it, "spend up" — its endowment by 2017. (As of year-end 2014, its assets totaled approximately $12 million.) Grants awarded in recent years have supported the Media Democracy Fund’s campaign to ensure net neutrality and the National Wildlife Federation’s diversity, inclusion, and leadership development efforts. MDF founding director Helen Brunner was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her work with the foundation, while NWF recently recognized it for its guidance and support with the National Conservation Organization Award.

PND spoke with June Wilson, who joined the foundation as executive director and board member in 2013, about diversity in environmental organizations and across the nonprofit sector and the foundation's "spend-up" process.

Headshot_june_wilsonPhilanthropy News Digest: A 2014 study by Dorceta E. Taylor, a University of Michigan professor of environmental justice studies, found that minorities and people of color are underrepresented on the staffs of environmental organizations. Since then, fellowship programs and other efforts have been launched to address the gap. What is behind the lack of diversity in the field, and why is it imperative for the field to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

June Wilson: The report lays out some of the issues behind the lack of diversity in the field very well, such as the lack of cross-race and -class collaboration, as well as employment/recruitment practices. And I think looking at DEI in the environmental movement is imperative because those who are most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change are communities of color and poor communities. Hurricane Katrina is one of the most obvious examples: Katrina affected the entire city of New Orleans, but the communities that suffered the worst impacts, those whose residents couldn’t come back because they lacked the resources, those whose homes and neighborhoods were destroyed, were mostly black communities.

We put so much effort and resources into conservation policies and encouraging people to access the outdoors and the natural environment, and those benefits are meant to be shared by all, so engaging communities of color in the environmental movement is imperative.

PND: Quixote has invested in the National Wildlife Federation's commitment to improving DEI in its internal and external practices through training and leadership development. Can you describe the foundation’s work with NWF — what opportunities did you see in the chance to work with the federation, and what are some of the successful outcomes of that work?

JW: NWF is one of the few grantees we've worked with on a consistent basis since the foundation was created. We talked about our commitment to DEI efforts with NWF’s [then-director of individual philanthropy] Chris Harvey, who connected us with [then-vice president for affiliate and regional strategies] Dan Chu, who was looking at how to develop a leadership program that really could affect the leadership pipeline, increase diversity, and educate staff internally about issues around structural racism, equity, and inclusion. So it just felt like a win-win: there was someone at NWF saying, "This is important for this organization," and we were saying, "We want to champion this." In 2010, we funded the Leader to Leader program for NWF staff with a three-year grant, and Dan felt it was important to frontload the grant to maximize its impact in terms of increasing understanding within the organization's leadership.

Our investment was pretty significant, and we could see how the program and related trainings and workshops were beginning to have some impact at the individual level. But at the end of the grant period, in 2013, we hadn’t seen a lot of change at the organizational level in terms of executive-level leadership transitions and capacity. So, even though we didn't give them an additional grant, for the last two and a half years we've been in conversation with the team there about their work around DEI and continued commitment to ensuring that it is sustained. [Associate director for the Pacific] Les Welsh, who was part of the Leader to Leader program and is truly committed to that work, brought board members and Collin O'Mara, NWF's new president and CEO, into the conversation, and it's been remarkable to see how constant engagement and investment in our relationship with the grantee beyond the grant is enabling the long-term impact we seek, including the implementation of new policies to diversify the organization’s leadership pyramid and a lot of interest on the part of key members of the board.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 9-10, 2016)

July 10, 2016

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

Community Development

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, a staff writer at The Atlantic, looks at what one Rust Belt city is doing to keep blue-collar African-Americans from being displaced as it tries to attract immigrants and boost the local economy.


Thanks to global regulation of chlorine compounds, the ozone hole over the Antarctic is on the mend. Alexandra Witze reports for Nature magazine.

On a less upbeat note, the International Development Association of the World Bank Group reports that unchecked climate change could push 100 million people back into poverty by 2030,with the poorest regions of the world — sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — likely to be hardest hit.


For weeks, writes David A. Fahrenthold, the Washington Post has been trying — and failing — to find evidence that presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump is as charitable as he claims to be.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has introduced legislation that would prohibit foundations with ties to former public officials, as well as presidents and vice presidents, from accepting contributions from individuals connected to foreign governments. The Hill's Alan K. Ota reports

On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, our colleague Melissa Moy takes a closer look at the philanthropy of recent Giving Pledge signatories Marc and Lynne Benioff.

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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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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2016)

July 03, 2016

Happy Fourth of July weekend! Hope you're spending it with family and friends. Before we head back out with more shrimp for the barbie, we thought we'd revisit some of the great content we shared here on PhilanTopic in June. Enjoy!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

Foundation Transparency: Game Over?

June 16, 2016

Data_unlockedThe tranquil world of America's foundations is about to be shaken, but if you read the Center for Effective Philanthropy's new study — Sharing What Matters, Foundation Transparency — you would never know it.

Don't get me wrong. That study, like everything CEP produces, is carefully researched, insightful, and thoroughly professional. But it misses the single biggest change in foundation transparency in decades: the release by the Internal Revenue Service of foundation 990-PF (and 990) tax returns as machine-readable open data.

Clara Miller, president of the Heron Foundation, writes eloquently in her manifesto Building a Foundation for the 21St Century: "the private foundation model was designed to be protective and separate, much like a terrarium."

Terrariums, of course, are highly "curated" environments over which their creators have complete control. To the extent that much of it consists of interviews with foundation leaders and reviews of their websites — as if transparency were a kind of optional endeavor in which foundations may choose to participate, if at all, and to what degree — the CEP study proves that point.

To be fair, CEP also interviewed the grantees of various foundations (sometimes referred to as "partners"), which helps convey the reality that foundations have stakeholders beyond their four walls. However, the terrarium metaphor is about to become far more relevant as the release of 990 tax returns as open data literally makes it possible for anyone to look right through those glass walls to the curated foundation world within.

What Is Open Data?

It is safe to say that most foundation leaders and a fair majority of their staff do not understand what open data really is. Open data is free, yes, but more importantly it is digital and machine-readable. This means it can be consumed in enormous volumes, at lightning speed, directly by computers.

Once consumed, open data can be tagged, sorted, indexed, and searched using statistical methods to make obvious comparisons while discovering previously undetected correlations. Anyone with a computer, some coding skills, and a hard drive or cloud storage can access open data. In today's world, a lot of people meet those requirements, and they are free to do whatever they please with your information once it is, as open data enthusiasts like to say, "in the wild."

Today, much government data is completely open. Go to or its equivalent in many countries around the world and see for yourself.

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Philanthropy's Role in Creating Tomorrow

May 16, 2016

Globe_hands_for_PhilanTopicChange in the world and our communities is happening at breathtaking speed. This accelerating rate of change makes the challenging work of doing good even more difficult. Foundations are trying to make the world a better place, but we are often using yesterday's information to do so.

When deciding what we will fund next year, we look at six-month-old grant applications, year-old grant reports, and six-year-old census data. But these methods are no longer up to the task. The Institute for the Future held a wonderful training last fall on the future of philanthropy in which the guiding question was: "Foundations will exist in ten years, but will they be relevant?"

Relevancy is not a question that foundations are used to asking themselves. But as we watch Mark Zuckerberg avoid the traditional structure of a foundation and, instead, opt to set up an LLC for his community impact work, it makes many of us pause and ask, "How do our institutions, which look almost the same as they did in Andrew Carnegie's time, need to adapt to meet the challenges of tomorrow?" That question has led me to an interest in futurism and interviewing leaders who are thinking differently about making the world a better place — individuals like Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Unite, Dr. Eric Jolly from Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, StartUp Box founder Majora Carter, and Obi Felten of Google X.

Based on these conversations, I believe it is our responsibility, as philanthropic leaders, to learn the skills needed to understand and create the future we want for our communities. And to that end, I’ve developed a three-step process to help philanthropic leaders escape from the busy-ness of today to create the better world of tomorrow.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

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

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.


On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.


How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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