129 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

Weekend Link Roundup (October 7-8, 2017)

October 08, 2017

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

Disaster Relief

ProPublica, no fan of the Red Cross, sent a team of reporters to Texas to see how the organization performed in the days after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston and the surrounding region. They found a lot of local officials who were not impressed. And here's the official Red Cross response to the criticism.

Giving

In the Baltimore Sun, Aaron Dorfman, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, wonders whether elimination of the estate tax, as the Trump administration has proposed, will result in a decline in charitable giving, especially large gifts. That's what happened the last time the tax was effectively zeroed out, in 2010, a year that saw bequests from estates decline by 37 percent from the previous year ($11.9 billion to $7.49 billion). A year later, after the tax had been reinstated (albeit at a lower level), the dollar value of bequests rose some 92 percent (to $14.36 billion). And in an op-ed in the Argus Leader, Dorfman provides some numbers which suggest that the family farm argument for eliminating the tax is overstated.

Inequality

On the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Tracy Jan shares a set of charts from the Urban Institute that help explain why the wealth gap between white families and everyone else is widenening.

International Affairs/Development

In a welcome development, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of disarmament activists, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.

Philanthropy

"Social justice organizations in the U.S. and around the world are playing a very long game," writes Kathy Reich, director of the Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) program at the Ford Foundation. But the way the nonprofit sector is currently financed, she adds, "doesn’t make the fight against inequality any easier." Reich shares five practices outlined in Scaling Solutions Toward Shifting Systems, a report published by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, that, in her judgment, "are key to powering nonprofit innovation and enabling organizations to scale to solve the world’s pressing social and environmental challenges."

In a post on the Forbes site, Michael Etzel, a partner at Bridgespan, and Hilary Pennington, vice president for for Education, Creativity, and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, introduce something called the Grantmaking Pyramid, a "philanthropic framework [that] rests on a wide base of foundational capabilities, rises through organizational resilience, and is capped by increasing impact."

Be sure to check out the five-part No Moat Philanthropy series featured on our sister Transparency Talk/Glasspockets blog on consecutive days last week. Penned by Jennifer Reedy, president of the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation, the series looks at the strategies and tactics Reedy and her colleagues have adopted to "open up" the foundation's grantmaking. The posts can be read in any order, but we suggest starting with the first one ("No Moat Philanthropy Part 1: Opening Up") and proceeding in the order in which they appeared: "Bringing the Outside In," "Building Your Network," "Beyond the Transactional," and "The Downsides & Why It's Worth It."

Did you know a new website called GrantAdvisor allows "grant applicants, grantees, and others to share their first-hand experiences working with funders through authentic, real-time reviews and comments"? An initiative of the California Association of Nonprofits, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, and Great Nonprofits, in partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Social Media for Nonprofits, the site bills itself as a sort of TripAdvisor for grantseekers and looks to be off to a great start. For more info, check out this FAQ.

Poverty

Some much-needed good news: The child poverty rate in America has hit a record low. Annie Lowrey reports for The Atlantic.

You're not alone if you think government and philanthropy could be doing more to reduce poverty. So does Warren Buffett.

Women and Girls

And Michelle Milford Morse,  a senior advisor to the United Nations Foundation and currently its acting vice president for girls and women strategy, checks in with a week's worth of highlights from the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, which was focused on gender equality and women's rights and empowerment.

(Photo credit: Eric Gruneisen)

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

Making Sense: Reflecting on Evaluations at the Jim Joseph Foundation

August 23, 2017

QuestionsanswerssignA core part of the Jim Joseph Foundation's relational approach to grantmaking is supporting the efforts of grantees to evaluate their programs — either through engaging an external evaluator or by collecting and analyzing data internally. The foundation has always believed this is a key part of good grantmaking, in that it builds the capacity of organizations to ask questions, to collect data, and to reflect on findings in a way that then enables them to make changes that increase the chances of success.

In this period of transition at the foundation, the grantmaking team has asked some pertinent questions regarding our own evaluation program: "What are we learning from the evaluation work we have supported over the past eleven years?” And, "Are there common lessons and emerging themes that we should recognize and reflect upon?"

To begin exploring these and other questions, the entire foundation team gathered for a full day earlier this year to share and discuss learnings and common themes discovered from a comprehensive review of nearly all the key evaluations and reports commissioned by the foundation since its inception.

To make the day as productive as possible, the foundation grantmaking team completed "homework" in the weeks leading up to the day-long session, dividing up the responsibility for reviewing a sample of forty-two evaluation reports, capacity-building and business plans, and field-building research reports — all commissioned and completed in the foundation's first eleven years — among team members and asking them to summarize the challenges, outcomes, and successes they identified in their respective documents.

This "day of evaluation reflection" (as we called it) turned out to be well worth the collective time and effort and, importantly, offered space for the team to discuss how the information and lessons that surfaced in our conversations might guide our future work. The summary below includes highlights from those discussions.

The foundation's effect on Jewish life and learning

How has the Jim Joseph Foundation influenced Judaism and Jewish peoples' approach to Jewish life and learning? This overarching question speaks directly to the foundation's mission. A common theme across many of the grants we have funded and evaluated is fostering community and positive relationships within the Jewish community. With few exceptions, evaluations show that participants in foundation-supported programs report feeling more connected to their Jewish identity and to Israel when those are the intended outcomes of the program. Since the DNA of the foundation includes a broad interpretation of and approach to Jewish learning, these programs encompass every kind of setting and activity, from camps, to schools, to service experiences, to Jewish outdoor food and environmental education. And, almost without exception, they have all proved to be effective while remaining aligned with our mission and values.

Lessons learned that have potential to inform foundation grantmaking

Several key themes emerged from the day's discussions that highlight opportunities for reflection, focus, and improvement:

  • Young adult communities can be brought together successfully through different interests and avenues that resonate and are relevant to the lives of young adults. Social justice and service increasingly are reasons for young Jews to engage in Jewish life.  And follow-on programming after an immersive experience is critical to deepening programmatic impact, creating community, and achieving positive outcomes.
  • Successful programs vary in cost and scale, and while immersive programs can be expensive and reach a relatively small number of people, they also tend to have a deep and lasting effect on participants. Other programs, such as doctoral programs in Jewish studies or education, are a longer play, with a relatively high cost per student or participant.
  • Mentorship and time for reflection are key elements in the success of many programs, particularly those focused on educator training. In addition, students value a reputable university program and also desire flexibility and diversity in their program options.
  • Capacity building with respect to evaluation, development, and growth planning can be important investments for grantees. As a relational grantmaker, the Jim Joseph Foundation is in a position to help an organization pivot and/or engage in long-term strategic planning. These plans must be right-sized, however, with realistic revenue targets and investments.
  • Relationships among organizations and people matter. There is value in collaboration and strength in building networks; both also are integral components of successful culture-change initiatives.
  • Some grants are designed to leave a system in place so as to create impact long after the grant period ends. Admittedly, this is an ideal scenario, but local and national funding partners with aligned interests can leverage their resources to both widen and deepen the impact of their grant dollars.

Challenges grantees often encounter

The day also brought to the fore some of the common challenges grantee partners experience.

  • The majority of challenges experienced by the foundation's grantees were related to marketing, recruitment, and retention. Retaining current participants can be just as valuable as bringing in new participants to a program/initiative. Another common challenge relates to hiring and retaining the right personnel — at all levels.
  • Fundraising for sustainability and growth frequently is a challenge — and many effective programs end up being not "sexy" enough for donors.
  • Whole school and/or organizational culture change is an effective way to create impact, but it often involves a lengthy process that requires significant staff capacity and buy-in.

Reflections on evaluation

In discussions about our evaluation support moving forward, the team discussed the importance of elevating the following concepts:

  • Asking good questions and being data informed in our decision-making. Related: evaluations help tell a story for newer foundation staff members about what is working and what is not.
  • It's important to create opportunities for funding to follow what is working — and evaluations can help inform both the "if" and "how" with respect to scaling a pilot program.
  • We should "celebrate failure" in appropriate ways and for the purposes of learning. It's also important to acknowledge that some "failures" actually turned into partial successes years after the grant and evaluation periods had ended. In other words, sometimes an evaluation simply captures a moment in time that may not be representative of the true impact of the program.
  • Field-building research reports frequently raise the profile of certain programs and certain issues — and dissemination is a very important part of the process.
  • Assessing return-on-investment from a grant or series of grants is a daunting challenge. Numbers (e.g., program participants) do not tell the entire story about the long-term effects or how someone's experience influenced their worldview and connection to their faith and community. As a result of its experience, the team reaffirmed our commitment to understand more deeply how Jewish life and learning is experienced and fostered.

Our team viewed the Day of Evaluation Reflection as a productive, enjoyable time for learning. And staff expressed positive sentiments toward the day itself in terms of the structure, presentations, and team-building environment — as well as the preparation process outlined in advance. The conversations we had were open and honest, and signaled that the current grantmaking team is willing to critically examine the foundation's past, current, and future work in a manner that emphasizes transparency, trust, and patience.

The exercise also raised a number of interesting and important questions that we will continue to explore. As is our tradition, we will continue to ask new questions and encourage dialogue as a means to advance our work and deepen our understanding of the most effective ways to practice and evaluate philanthropy.

Headshot_stacie_cherner_156x200Stacie Cherner is senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2017)

August 01, 2017

The most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July include strong calls to action from sector veterans Gary Bass and Mark Rosenman, Cathy Cha, and Kate Kroeger; new posts by Blackbaud's Annie Rhodes and PEAK Grantmaking's Michelle Greanias; and a couple of "repeaters" (John Hewko's account of how Rotary International manages to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, Kyoko's Q&A with the Rockefeller Foundation's Claudia Juech). Check 'em out (if you haven't already)!

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

Because What You Know Shouldn't Just Be About Who You Know

July 11, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Knowledge is obsolete." As a librarian, my ears perked up when someone shared the title of this TEDxFoggyBottom talk. It's plausible. Why memorize obscure, hard-to-remember facts when anything you could possibly want to know can be looked up, on the go, via a smartphone? As a mom, I imagine my kids sitting down to prepare for rich, thought-provoking classroom discussions instead of laboring over endless multiple-choice tests. What an exciting time to be alive — a time when all of humanity's knowledge is at our fingertips, leading experts are just a swipe away, the answer always literally close at hand, and we've been released from the drudgery of memorization and graduated to a life of active, informed debate! And how lucky are we to be working in philanthropy and able to leverage all this knowledge for good, right?

Open-for-good_featureforeground

Though the active debate part may sound familiar, sadly, for too many of us working in philanthropy, the knowledge utopia described above is more sci-fi mirage than a TED Talk snapshot of present-day reality. As Foundation Center's Glasspockets team revealed in its "Foundation Transparency Challenge" infographic last November, only 10 percent of foundations today have a website, and not even our smartphones are  smart enough to connect you to the 90 percent of those that don't.

The Foundation Transparency Challenge reveals other areas of potential improvement for institutional philanthropy, including a number of transparency practices not widely embraced by the majority of funders. Indeed, the data we've collected demonstrates that philanthropy is weakest when it comes to creating communities of shared learning, with fewer than half the foundations with a Glasspockets profile using their websites to share what they are learning, only 22 percent sharing how they assess their own performance, and only 12 percent revealing details about their strategic plan.

Foundation Center data also tells us that foundations annually make an average of $5.4 billion in grants for knowledge-production activities such as evaluations, white papers, and case studies. Yet only a small fraction of foundations actively share the knowledge assets that result from those grants — and far fewer share them under an open license or through an open repository. For a field that is focused on investing in ideas — and not shy about asking grantees to report on the progress of these ideas — there is much potential here to open up our knowledge to peers and practitioners who, like so many of us, are looking for new ideas and new approaches to urgent, persistent problems.

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PEAK Grantmaking — Helping Grantmakers Walk the Talk

June 30, 2017

How grants are made is as critical to the success of a grantmaking organization as what and who the organizations funds. At the Grants Managers Network, we believe that if grantmaking organizations hope to achieve real impact, decisions regarding every facet of their grantmaking need to be grounded in their values, core beliefs, and identity.

That's why we are walking our talk and announcing that, from now on, we will be known as PEAK Grantmaking.

Logo-PEAKWe're changing our name to better communicate the impact that the grants management profession has on institutional philanthropy. Grants managers strengthen philanthropy by helping their organizations advance their missions through smart, effective grantmaking. They play a key role in their organizations' work to transform lives, communities, and ecosystems. They help philanthropy achieve its peak.

But that peak must rest on a deep and broad base of core values that serve to motivate and inform the important work of grantmakers. Too often, grantmakers' values aren't reflected in their grantmaking practices. And when grantmaking practices and values are out of sync, grantmakers unnecessarily waste resources, burden the nonprofits they serve, and tax the goodwill of their supporters.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 24-25, 2015)

June 25, 2017

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

Climate Change

"If there's a silver lining to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement," writes Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek, it's "the renewed commitment to climate action we’re seeing across the country." Indeed, "[m]ore than 175 governments covering 30 percent of the global economy have pledged to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. [And here] in the U.S., 13 states have formed an alliance announcing that they will enact policies to meet our Paris pledge within their borders."

Communications/Marketing

Is your nonprofit's messaging stuck in neutral? Nonprofit communications consultant Carrie Fox has a five-step reboot designed to get your communications back in gear.

Grantmaking

Even though "[r]elationships between funders and grantees may have their own unique quirks and power dynamics,...they are not fundamentally different from...other good relationships," writes Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of education at the Kresge Foundation, on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 17-18, 2017)

June 18, 2017

Rising-TemperaturesOur 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

On the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies CEO Pam Breaux argues that leaving support for arts to the private sector alone "would leave millions of people behind."

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network site, Na Eng, communications director at the McKnight Foundation, shares some of the best practices that she and her colleagues embedded in the foundation's latest annual report.

Corporate Philanthropy

In the Detroit News, Melissa Burden reports that General Motors is overhauling its $30-million-a year corporate philanthropy program — a decision that has some nonprofits and arts groups in southeastern Michigan worried.

Diversity

"Of all the things philanthropists are trying to fix," writes Ben Paynter in Fast Company, "there's one major issue the sector seems to continually ignore: itself." By which he means the "lack of racial diversity among nonprofit and foundation leaders, an issue that remains unaddressed despite having been well documented for at least fifteen years."

Grantmaking

When are program evaluations worth reading, and when are they not? On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, breaks it down

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2017)

June 02, 2017

Like many of you, we're trying to make sense of all the tweets, charges/counter-charges, and executive orders emanating from the White House. One thing we do know, however: you found plenty to like here on the blog in May, including a stirring call to action from Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits; some excellent grantmaking advice from Peter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children; a new post by everyone's favorite millennial fundraising expert, Derrick Feldmann; posts by first-time contributors Nona Evans and Jaylene Howard; and an oldie-but-goodie by fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. But don't take our word for it — pull up a chair, click off MSNBC, and treat yourself to some good reads!

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

Weekend Link Roundup (May 27-28, 2017)

May 28, 2017

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

Frog-in-the-Rain

Climate Change

As the Trump administration prepares to exit the Paris climate agreement, a new Global Challenges Foundation poll finds that a majority of people in eight countries — the U.S., China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany — say they are ready to change their lifestyles if it would prevent climate catastrophe — a survey result that suggests "a huge gap between what people expect from politicians and what politicians are doing."

Criminal Justice

On the Ford Foundation's Equal Change blog, Kamilah Duggins and William Kelley explain why and how they created a professional development program at the foundation for graduates of the Bard Prison Initiative, which creates the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College degree while serving their sentence.

Diversity

A new white paper (6 pages, PDF) from executive search firm Battalia Winston sheds light on the lack of diversity within the leadership ranks of the nation's foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Education

Does the DeVos education budget promote "choice" or segregation? That's the question the Poverty & Race Research Council's Kimberly Hall and Michael Hilton ask in a post here on PhilanTopic.

Fundraising

There are mistakes, and there are fundraising mistakes. Here are five of the latter that, according to experts on the Forbes Nonprofit Council, we all should try to avoid.

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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.

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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?

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The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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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.

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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.

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of 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 emergence of private philanthropy globally; 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 in the twenty-first century. 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.

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"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:

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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.

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  • "[W]hat struck me was the startled awareness that one day something, whatever it might be, was going to interrupt my leisurely progress. It sounds trite, yet I can only say that I realized for the first time that I don't have forever...."

    — Anatole Broyard, book critic/editor/essayist (1920-1990)

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