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56 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

Foundation Strategy...the Enemy of Collaboration?

February 19, 2015

Chrysalis_imageIn today's world, it is almost obligatory for any self-respecting foundation to describe its work as "strategic." At the same time, a growing number of foundations are coming to the realization that, if they hope to scale their work and achieve lasting impact, they need to collaborate with each other and across sectors. I fear, however, that the way many foundations approach strategy is erecting barriers rather than building bridges to collaboration. This post is my attempt to explain why that is and to offer some practical solutions to the problem.

My thoughts on this matter were sparked by remarks originally made by Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation, and elaborated on by Heather Grady in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. For the record, I believe that foundation strategy is a critical element in achieving impact, but like so many things it is best practiced in moderation.

The fetishism of strategy

It used to be that people made a point of saying they practiced philanthropy rather than charity. That distinction gradually fell by the wayside as younger generations of philanthropists began to introduce ideas and practices from the business world related to impact and metrics, liberally peppering their discourse with phrases like "social return on investment." In their eyes, the way many practiced philanthropy was not much of an improvement over charity, which they saw as dealing largely with symptoms and driven by donors and staff who valued heart over head and had no clear way to articulate hoped-for outcomes — let alone measure them. The more the term philanthropy became devalued, the more it came to be modified by adjectives of choice. Suddenly, if your philanthropy wasn't tactical, effective, catalytic, high-impact, or, at a minimum, strategic, it wouldn't be taken seriously.

Many foundations, particularly the larger staffed ones, responded to this change by immersing themselves in protracted strategic review processes, frequently under the guidance of prestigious consulting firms. Often triggered by a change in foundation leadership, these exercises tend to follow a pattern, one aspect of which is well-known to nonprofits frustrated by the all-too-familiar refrain of program officers who cite "our deep internal review process" as the reason that "no new requests for funding can be entertained at this time" and who encourage you to get back in touch "when our new priorities have been defined."

As frustrating as this kind of strategic lock-down can be to those on the outside, the process viewed from within foundations is far more challenging than it may seem. Strategy reviews usually are precipitated by a donor or new leader who wants to shake things up, and the process often starts with a question: How can we make a difference? Or, how can we use our resources to do something others are not? That, in turn, typically triggers some kind of scan to see how other resources are being utilized. The exercise often involves trying to identify big trends and future scenarios, which can be daunting and seem impossibly large and intractable when compared to the resources available to even the largest foundations.

The less high-minded aspect of the foundation strategy process is the inevitable internal editing that occurs. Foundations rarely operate with a blank slate; instead, they have a legacy of existing program priorities and grantee relationships that somehow must be reconciled with whatever new strategic priorities emerge from the process. Yet the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of all this is the internal consensus building: when it comes to unveiling a new strategy, foundations have to get everyone on board — from grants administrators, to program officers, to directors and trustees — and that takes time, finesse, and compromise.

At the end of the process, foundations emerge from their state of chrysalis with a series of announcements about new strategic directions, programmatic priorities, and initiatives. Grantseekers, previously put on hold and frustrated, now are faced with more practical challenges like figuring out where the work of their organizations fits within the new strategic framework and who their program officer might be. Some foundations do a superb job of providing their grantee partners with a roadmap, while others leave them to figure it out on their own.

Raising the transaction costs of collaboration

The difficulties of collaboration, particularly its time-consuming nature and the challenges of collective action when several foundations try to implement something together, are well known. I am worried, however, that the strategy review process described above may be driving those transaction costs of collaboration even higher.

There are two reasons for my concern. First, foundations, as endowed, tax-advantaged institutions, are blissfully free from the daily pressures that drive short-term behavior in other sectors: they don't need to raise money, they don't need to sell products in a competitive marketplace, and they don't need to chase votes. They are expected to contribute to the public good in exchange for their favorable tax status, and ideally that requires being out on the street, understanding how people live and institutions work. Yet these protracted strategic review processes are intensely introspective affairs. The outside information and opinions that manage to penetrate the walls of the foundation more often than not are filtered by those who do the interviewing, write the studies, and describe the trends, sometimes complemented by a discussion or two with hand-picked experts. This highly controlled approach is partly a response to the fact that endowed foundations are like islands of money surrounded by people who desperately want some of it: they can't turn to their current and potential grantees for advice without getting endless variations on the "fund us" theme. Whatever the reasons, I would argue that it is not healthy for already insulated institutions to close themselves off even more from the outside world for any length of time.

The second reason that this fixation on strategy impedes collaboration is because of the internal consensus building process I referred to above. After a staffed foundation has gone through months (in some cases, as much as a year) of introspection and internal consensus building, there is a tremendous degree of investment in the final product. With its carefully-crafted goals, program areas, initiatives, and cross-cutting themes, all crafted to be unique and cutting-edge, the strategy becomes practically non-negotiable. Thus, when two or more foundations try to find a way to collaborate and scale their efforts, the over-investment in their individual strategies makes it difficult to find common ground and reach compromise. More often than not, to make it work, somebody has to blink, be flexible, and give up a bit of sovereignty. Doing so can feel like abandoning one's own strategy or, at the very least, betraying one's focus — something no foundation wants to risk in an impact-driven world.

That this is not an ideal situation doesn't mean it can't be addressed. Based on my long experience working inside foundations and observing the entire field from my present-day vantage point as president of Foundation Center, here are a couple of ideas.

Solution #1 – Start strategy with a different question

Foundations have no obligation to be unique, so rather than starting the strategy review process with the question, How can we be different?, they should ask themselves, How can we be more alike? That's right, foundations would be well served by finding a cause or geography that resonates with their mission, seeing what kinds of resources other foundations already are allocating, and then adding their own resources to the mix. Being a joiner rather than a loner has tremendous strategic impact when it comes to leveraging resources and scaling one's efforts. Discovering who is funding what and where and knowing more about what other foundations know should be the beginning of any strategy review process. And it's easier than you think because of the deep data and knowledge resources our field possesses today, as well as the technology available to explore them. Foundation Center has excellent tools like Foundation Maps and IssueLab for doing so.

Solution #2 – Ease up on the legacy thing

There may not be much we can do to change the inclination of living donors to leave a legacy; after all, it's their hard work, ambition, and good fortune that makes foundations possible in the first place. But why do foundation boards and presidents need to be so concerned about their own legacies? The kind of competitive drive that fuels egos and success in business and politics is not essential to philanthropy. Foundation leaders are free to be learners, joiners, enablers, facilitators, and collaborators. America's great foundations are remembered, and continue to be praised, not so much for their current strategic priority or latest initiative as for their patience and willingness to stick with ambitious causes — eradicating disease, combating racism, educating the poor and disadvantaged, nurturing documentary film — over long spans of time that, more often than not, transcend the tenure of a single president, program officer, or group of trustees. Easing up on the concern for one's legacy, or perhaps re-defining legacy to be about joining and collaborating with others, could help make the strategy review process in foundations a much simpler and faster process. It might also correct for the strategic over-steer that produces the zigs and zags that undermine the stability so valued by foundations' grantees and partners.

America has nearly 90,000 independent endowed foundations, the vast majority of which have little or no staff to worry about the things I've touched on above. In many, many cases, they support causes close to home and are immensely valuable to the nonprofits that undergird our civil society. But the thousand or so foundations that each have over $100 million in assets account for more than half of all foundation giving and rightfully care about strategy. They could be far more efficient and achieve greater impact if they collaborated more with each other and with other sectors. One way for them to do that may be to try a little less hard to be so strategic.

Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center.

Weekend Link Roundup (February 7-8, 2015)

February 08, 2015

Winter-wonderland-tumblr-3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

Climate Change

The Guardian's Damian Carrington reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets totaling more than $850 billion, dumped 32 coal-mining companies from its portfolio in 2014. "Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term," said Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for GPFG, which had had $40 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. "Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand."

Communications/Marketing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, argues that, in the age of the Internet, "communications is not just an opportunity for nonprofits; it's a necessity. Whether we're fundraising or trying to influence policy," he continues,

how we reach the right person with the right message has changed profoundly. Now it can take far more to figure out who the right people are, what channels to reach or influence them through, and how to hear them. It’s one thing to land a grant to open a new art space; it’s another to convince city hall that the community wants it, and still another to build a community to support it....

Education

It is troubling and a very big deal, writes Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, that a majority of U.S. public school children today live in poverty and are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. 

Grantmaking

On the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog, Jessica Bearman (aka "Dr. Streamline) shares six things foundations can do to improve the diversity and inclusion of their grantmaking.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a LinkedIn post, Peter York, founder and CEO at Algorhythm, a Philadelphia-based software company that is working to "democratize" impact measurement, asks: Who really has access to the power of impact measurement? And is there more we can do to make it available to everyone, including the beneficiary?

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (November 2014)

December 01, 2014

PhilanTopic had a lot to be thankful for in November. In fact, thanks to a lot of great content, it was our busiest month, traffic wise, since we launched the blog back in 2007. Here's a recap of the posts that proved to be especially popular.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter?: An Update

November 20, 2014

Headshot_j_mccrayOver the past fifteen years, research by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has demonstrated that certain grantmaking practices support nonprofits' capacity to achieve results. To track how these practices are changing, GEO conducts a national survey of staffed grantmaking organizations every three years. As we prepared to release the results of our most recent survey, I wondered: How would experts in nonprofit management interpret the results? To find out, I asked CompassPoint CEO Jeanne Bell, co-author of the reports Daring to Lead and Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, and Don Crocker, executive director and CEO of the Support Center, which advises nonprofits and foundations in the areas of leadership and executive transitions, board performance, and nonprofit/foundation effectiveness, to share their thoughts on our key findings as well as how funders can best support nonprofits to achieve more impact.

Long-term grants are inspirational. Multiyear support (grants of two years or longer without the need to reapply) is returning to pre-recession levels. Most funders now give at least some multiyear support. "Multiyear grants are powerful," says Bell. "If the foundation and the nonprofit are in sync around core programming, multiyear grants give you sustainability and predictability." Crocker agrees, adding, "Even if you look at small businesses and social entrepreneurs, they'll tell you it takes four or five years for the rubber to meet the road and for really good results to start emerging. I think multiyear grants are inspirational, in that they allow the nonprofit to have a greater sense of security."

Unrestricted support enables creativity and responsiveness. After being flat for many years, the average share of annual grantmaking budgets devoted to unrestricted support showed a small but meaningful increase (from 20 percent to 25 percent). Why is this important? As Crocker says, "General operating support opens the door to much more creative thinking, allowing nonprofits to be more nimble and a lot more responsive to things that have changed in their community and the needs of their clients."

Boosting leadership capacity requires a collective approach. More than a quarter of the funders surveyed reported an increase in the dollar total of their grants for capacity-building efforts, which include leadership development, governance, and evaluation capacity. "Nonprofits are collections of leaders, including development directors and program directors and policy directors — it's not just executives," says Bell. "The foundations that do it well not only pay for leadership development, they also act as ambassadors and champions for individual leaders as well as networks. That’s something special that foundations can do but typically government and major donors can't."

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Growing the Field of Youth Philanthropy: A Funder’s Perspective

November 14, 2014

While working with young members of the Lumpkin Family Foundation as a program officer a few years back, I quickly realized I had two needs:

  1. age-appropriate resources to support younger members of the family (ages 16-21) in developing their own grantmaking process based on best practices in the field; and
  2. to connect these younger family members with other young people involved in their own family's foundation.

Youth_philanthropy_screenshotThrough the foundation's national membership association connections, I was able to connect with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation (FCF), and the young family members at FCF graciously agreed to meet up with the younger Lumpkin family members to share their experiences. That meeting served as a catalyst for a significant shift in the programmatic and grantmaking focus of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation to youth philanthropy. In 2012, I moved from the Lumpkin Family Foundation to FCF to help lead that effort, which today is known as Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led initiative for young people between the ages of 8 and 21 who want to get involved in philanthropy work, with a focus on grantmaking.

Soon after I arrived, FCF began more broadly to reach out to other foundations that were actively engaging younger family members in their grantmaking, and we quickly developed a lengthy and diverse list of organizations that were active in this space. Through our outreach efforts, we learned that the heads of family foundations increasingly are engaging younger generations for succession planning and wealth transfer purposes; community foundations are engaging youth in grantmaking activities as a way to build the philanthropic capacity of the community; and private and public schools are incorporating community change efforts and grantmaking activities into their classrooms and afterschool programs.

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Traveling Toward Greater Impact

November 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_broomeAnyone who has ever traveled with me – even just across town – knows that I get lost easily. North becomes south, left becomes right. As such, I’ve developed a heavy reliance on maps to tell me where I am and to help me figure out where I'm going. Otherwise, I'll spend a lot of time confidently headed in the wrong direction. That's exactly the value I see in the maps and analysis of human rights grantmaking created by the International Human Rights Funders Group and Foundation Center. They, too, can help those of us in the field of human rights philanthropy establish where we are and think critically about where we are going.

Where are we now?

First, in comparing the maps on the Advancing Human Rights website, it appears that human rights funding increased from $1.2 billion in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2011. However, an important factor in that increase is that an additional forty-plus funders began submitting their data to the project in 2011. When comparing "like with like" (only including the funders that submitted data for both years), we can see that funding for human rights increased by almost 8 percent.

The geographic distribution of the grants awarded also is interesting. In 2011, human rights funding in support of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia increased by 28 percent, while funding for the Middle East and North Africa increased by 33 percent. This increase may have been influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011. The initial benchmark research set means that, for the first time, we will be able to track philanthropy's response to the Arab Spring, as well as funding trends with respect to other regions, issues, and populations. This is an exciting development for our field.

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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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Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

October 30, 2014

Headshot_schneider_kidron_300x600Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation's Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion of eighteen degree and certificate programs as well as leadership institutes at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU).

The foundation provided the resources needed for program development, staffing, student tuition assistance, and marketing/recruitment activities. The investment was substantial – each institution received $15 million over a period of up to six years. As part of its independent evaluation of the initiative, American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed not only how well the three grantees delivered these programs, but how they planned to financially sustain their programs into the future after the foundation's investment wound down.

Financial sustainability requires careful planning, typically using a dynamic document that is reviewed and revisited periodically. Such a document – the financial sustainability plan – describes strategies to contain costs and to cover them through fundraising and program revenues.

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. To help Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative grantees, we developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. This interactive tool can be used to:

  1. Identify the resources required to implement a program, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and materials, whether paid for directly or contributed in-kind, and subsequently to calculate program costs.
  2. Explore ways to reduce costs.
  3. Identify the effects of different levels of tuition and scholarships.
  4. Calculate fundraising needs and demonstrate to potential funders why their help is needed.

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

We created benchmarks for reviewing the financial sustainability plans submitted by each institution. The four criteria described below are based on the assumption that financial sustainability is a process, not an end. In other words, although the process aimed at achieving financial sustainability may not yet be completed, the financial sustainability plan contributes to a road map that programs can follow into the future.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 25-26, 2014)

October 26, 2014

Alloween-blackcat-660x500Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector.... 

Economy

In Salon, author and political analyst Thomas Frank (What's the Matter With Kanasas?) tries to square the immense popularity of Ted-like talks and books about creativity with the "easy assumption that creativity was a thing our society valued....[I] had even believed it once," Frank writes, "in the way other generations had believed in the beneficence of government or the blessings of Providence.

And yet [my] creative friends, when considered as a group, were obviously on their way down, not up. The institutions that made their lives possible — chiefly newspapers, magazines, universities and record labels — were then entering a period of disastrous decline. The creative world as [I] knew it was not flowering, but dying.

When [I] considered [my] creative friends as individuals, the literature of creativity began to seem even worse — more like a straight-up insult. [I] was old enough to know that, for all its reverential talk about the rebel and the box breaker, society had no interest in new ideas at all unless they reinforced favorite theories or could be monetized in some obvious way. The method of every triumphant intellectual movement had been to quash dissent and cordon off truly inventive voices. This was simply how debate was conducted....

Grantmaking

On the GrantCraft blog, Kris Putnam-Walkerly, author of the Philanthropy411 blog, shares three things she has learned from ride-sharing service Uber that foundations could use to improve the experience for their "customers" (i.e., grantees).

International Affairs/Development

In the most recent issue of the London Review of Books, Paul Farmer, a professor of global health at Harvard and a co-founder of Partners in Health, offers a no-nonsense assessment of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and what the global community must do to contain the virus. "First," he writes, "we need to stop transmission....Transmission is person to person, and in the absence of an effective medical system, it occurs wherever care is given: in households, clinics and hospitals, and where the dead are tended. Infection control, must be strengthened in all of these places....

Second, we need to avoid pitting prevention against treatment. Both are necessary....

Third, the rebuilding of primary care [in the region] must be informed by what has been learned from the response to this outbreak....

Fourth, the knowledge gained from the response must be built on. Every attempt to prevent the spread of Ebola should involve proper care for quarantined patients....

Fifth, formal training programs should be set up for Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans. Vaccines and diagnostics and treatments will not be discovered or developed without linking research to clinical care; new developments won't be delivered across West Africa without training the next generation of researchers, clinicians and managers. West Africa needs well-designed and well-resourced medical and nursing schools as well as laboratories able to conduct surveillance and to respond earlier and more effectively. Less palaver, more action.

Should you, the individual donor, donate to Ebola response efforts? The folks at GiveWell examine that question as only they can.

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E-What?

October 06, 2014

Headshot_joyce_whiteIt wasn't so long ago that I first heard the term "big data." At the time, I didn't give it much thought. After all, I'm the executive director of a regional association of grantmakers – there are lots of research facilities, academic centers, affinity groups, and data geeks out there collecting and analyzing data in our field. What could I possibly add to the conversation?

Now I know – and not only do I want you to know, I want you to join me in spreading the word about Foundation Center's eReporting Program. Simply put, regional associations of grantmakers can play a critical role in building the information infrastructure that supports a more vibrant and effective nonprofit sector. We can help to harness the grants data of nearly six thousand funders and centralize it in a way that makes it more readily available to inform every aspect of our work – from collaborations, to research, to due diligence, to strategic investments. And we can help fill in the picture of what is currently happening in our sector – still a surprising need in 2014, given our expectations for the availability of real-time information in just about every other aspect of our lives.

For me, the light bulb started to glow with a research project on giving to communities of color by Oregon funders. Working with Foundation Center and a group of local funders who were interested in understanding how – or whether – their funding reflected the demographic changes happening in our region, we produced a report, Grantmaking to Communities of Color in Oregon. In the process, we realized we didn't have the inputs needed to create great outputs. Working primarily with two-year-old tax forms that had grant descriptions like "For the library project," we soon realized that while the report marked an important step based on the data we had, it didn't necessarily provide a complete picture. And because many funders weren't coding their grants, other entities were drawing their own conclusions about where funding was being directed and deciding, as best they could, who was benefiting from the grant. Not exactly a best practice.

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[Video] "Ecosystem Philanthropy" | Jennifer Ford Reedy, President, Bush Foundation

September 06, 2014

In this recent TEDxFargo talk, Reedy, the fourth president of the Saint Paul-based Bush Foundation, uses a variety of examples, from "Sesame Street, to the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, to the dramatically different but equally influential efforts of Albert and Mary Lasker and John M. Olin, to explain "why so many attempts to do good in the world don't work as intended and how the most effective philanthropists understand the social ecosystem they are trying to effect and put it to work for them."

Reedy concludes her talk with four lessons for philanthropists and philanthropy practitioners looking to drive change in a world of unintended consequences:

  • Activate others.
  • Watch, wait, and do.
  • Think long and lasting.
  • Don't underestimate the power of individuals.

(Running time: 18:08)

Are you involved in -- or can you point to -- a successful example of "ecosystem philanthropy"? Which of Reedy's lessons (if any) does it exemplify? And what lessons would you add to the list? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2014)

September 02, 2014

Don't know what it's like where you are, but here in NYC someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that summer is over. Which is okay, because before it ends we want to make sure everyone has a chance to catch up with all the sizzling content we posted on PhilanTopic in August. Enjoy!

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

All Aboard for Practices That Matter

August 19, 2014

Headshot_nikki_powellIt's a common refrain these days: a perfect storm is changing the way philanthropy is done, and that change is likely to accelerate in the years to come.

Some of the forces driving this change are external, beyond the control of stakeholders in the field. Others are emerging from the field itself and represent some of the best opportunities philanthropy has to embrace, leverage, and accelerate its own evolution.

One of those internal forces is the simple yet confounding issue of grantmaking practices.

You don't need me to tell you that complexity is the rule when it comes to grantmaking strategies. Every funder has its own ideas about who it wants to fund, why, and the outcomes and measures of success it uses and is looking for.

At the same time, meeting nonprofit needs has become trickier, as the demand for services continues to outpace the resources available to meet those needs, making the decisions on who should be funded that much harder.

Against this backdrop, I'm pleased to report that some of the most exciting changes in philanthropy, changes that involve the how of grantmaking, are just waiting for funders to take advantage of them. As the association representing grants management professionals – the people who actually develop and execute grantmaking practices at foundations – Grants Managers Network has a unique vantage point on the ways in which grantmaking practice is becoming more important. Indeed, we feel so strongly about the issue, we've decided to share our perspective in a new report titled Blueprint for the Future.

Continue reading »

Grantees Sound Off About Philanthropic Funding System

August 15, 2014

MarcMaxson_GG_sweaterI believe that philanthropic foundations could make major progress in serving their constituents if they paid more attention to what grantees were saying about them. Not in the cozy pat-each-other-on-the-back love-fest way. I mean by listening to real, honest feedback.

Recently, we at Feedback Labs (as a neutral third party) decided to ask a group of twelve hundred organizations to publicly share stories about their experiences with funders, adopting our community storytelling approach to the task. That approach emphasizes open-ended narratives with a few follow-up questions, intermediation (people are a little more likely to say something negative if the boss isn't in the room), and confidentiality.

Sample Feedback

I selected these particular comments because the variety of issues addressed in them illustrates the importance of asking open-ended questions. In this case, the question was: "Talk about your experience approaching a grantmaking or funding organization that either did or did not grant you funding. What was the relationship like? Did you receive support from them?" (Feel free to add your own story to the collection here.) What follows are some representative highlights from the stories told by grantees about funders and the grantseeking process:

Comments from GlobalGiving partner organizations:

  • The process leaves little room to establish a relationship with a grantmaker because we're usually just asked to fill in a standard form and maybe attach a project summary and financial documents.
  • It was important for us to understand who the decision makers are. What are their priorities? And what aspects of the project are particularly appealing to the funder, given its vision and mission?
  • It was an unsolicited proposal, and we really didn't attempt to build any relationship with the foundation by writing to them or calling them up to ask where our proposal the previous year had fallen short. That really affected our chances of winning a grant.
  • We got to meet the organization through a mutual friend who had been following our work for years.
  • I was nervous when I sent the first email requesting support for a program in Nairobi. However, the funder responded positively and even made a trip to Nairobi to see the program first hand.
  • We waited endlessly for a decision on our proposal. One of the basic problems in dealing with a large CSR unit is that you have to keep following up and have a person dedicated to making sure that happens.

And here are some comments from smaller, emerging organizations not yet partnered with GlobalGiving:

Continue reading »

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