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124 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

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.

International Affairs/Development

In a powerful Ted Talk recorded in Vancouver, British Columbia, the International Rescue Committee's David Miliband argues that the global refugee crisis "is not just a crisis; it's a test of us in the Western world, of who we are and what we stand for....[It] is about the rescue of us and our values, as well as the rescue of refugees and their lives."

A new report from UNHRC, the United Nations' refugee agency, says that at the end of 2016 there were 65.6 million people forcibly displaced worldwide — some 300,000 more than a year earlier. And of the total, 22.5 million are refugees, the highest number ever recorded.

Here's a silver lining: In 2016, for the second year in a row, the Syrian crisis was the largest recipient of private humanitarian funding, with $223 million going towards the crisis and the neighboring refugee-hosting countries. The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy team reports on foundation efforts to ameliorate the crisis.

The World Bank is reinventing itself from a lender for major development projects to a broker for private sector investment. What are the implications of the shift for poverty reduction efforts globally? Felix Stein, a research affiliate at the University of Cambridge, and Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, report for the Conversation.

Are foundations missing an opportunity by not focusing more of their development resources on cities? Christopher Swope, managing editor of Citiscope, explains why many of the world's largest cities are well positioned to drive progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nonprofits

Here on PhilanTopic, Amelia Kohm, founder of DataViz for Nonprofits, explains why, for nonprofits looking to boost their impact, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Philanthropy

North Carolinians will be interested in the update filed by Z. Smith Reynolds executive director Maurice "Mo" Green on the foundation's "emerging direction," which was formulated during a yearlong strategic assessment and planning process aimed at learning more about the changing needs of people in the state.

GrantAdvisor, a new web service launched (in California and Minnesota, with more states to follow in 2018) by nonprofit rating site Great Nonprofit, the California Association of Nonprofits, and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, "facilitates open dialogue between nonprofits and grantmakers by collecting authentic, real-time reviews and comments on grantseekers’ experiences working with funders to encourage more productive philanthropy." You can check it out here.

In an open letter to Jeff Bezos, Forbes contributor Jake Hayman urges the Amazon.com founder to rethink his intention to use Twitter to crowdsource his philanthropy with a focus on immediate short-term needs.

The New York Community Trust's Lorie Slutsky and philanthropy consultant (and PhilanTopic contributor) Kris Putnam-Walkerly also have some advice for Bezos.

Bezos was in the news for another reason last week: Amazon's acquisition of  John Mackey's high-end grocery purveyor, Whole Foods. For City Journal contributing editor Howard Husock, the deal is a reminder to the "quasi-capitalist" movement (of which Mackey is a member in good standing) that "good service, low prices, and beating competitors still matter." Adds Husock, those "managing the endowments of major foundations — a number of whom have announced that they will use impact investing to guide both grant-making and asset-investment strategy — should pay attention."

And in a Quartz article that originally appeared in the digital magazine Aeon, Barry Lam, an associate professor of philosophy at Vassar College, argues that the kind of "moral clarity" we have about the dead hand of the past "disappears as soon as we move from politics to wealth." Indeed, in philanthropy, Americans have (and celebrate) "a huge industry dedicated to executing the wishes of human beings after their death."

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

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.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 4-5, 2017)

March 06, 2017

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

Arts and Culture

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

Civil Society

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

Education

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

Fundraising

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

Giving

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

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A Surprising Prize: Passion and Vision

November 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

November 16, 2016

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

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

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

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A Surprising Prize: Small Dollars, Big Ideas

November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Philanthropy Isn't the Answer to Bad Government

November 02, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

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