131 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

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

October 06, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Advancing Women's Economic Security

October 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

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

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

Weekend Link Roundup (September 17-18 2016)

September 18, 2016

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

End-of-summerCommunications/Marketing

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

Education

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

Giving Pledge

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

Grantmaking

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

Grantseeking

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

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You Can Connect the Dots for Global Philanthropy

September 16, 2016

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

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

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Mind the Gap! Bridging Funder and Grantee Approaches to Measurement

September 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Get Out There!

September 08, 2016

Go_signI hope you had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it's time to hunker down in the office and get things done, right?

Wrong.

In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see community problems being solved. There's no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging connections. And there are few people more suited to forging connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.

Building connections isn't something you do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them firsthand with those who are most affected by them. You need to meet people on their own turf and look them in the eye before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear on a problem. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that almost never take place within your own foundation's walls.

Of course, not every foundation operates this way. It's not that foundation people are shy or too self-important to get out there – it's that they get caught up in the myth of the importance of being in the office.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2016)

August 06, 2016

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

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

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