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128 posts categorized "Strategies"

Change Management From the Inside Out

August 13, 2015

Change_button_195I have been thinking a lot about change lately.

It’s no secret that external change is often the enemy of an organization’s long-term impact. Think changes in public policy. Trends in fundraising. Challenges to mission. Shifts in consumer sentiment. And, frankly, philanthropic fads.

But internal change can be just as much or perhaps even more of a management challenge, and the implications of how we deal with that change — particularly at the leadership level — are critical.

Consider such internal challenges as:

  • Change in organizational leadership – the CEO, president, or executive director;
  • Change in board leadership due to term limits;
  • Change in volunteer leadership at the ground level as volunteers move from one volunteer opportunity to another;
  • Change in how volunteers themselves see their roles in the organization; and
  • The need to make changes in "the way we do things" to avoid institutional inertia and dry rot.

No one has written about "change" and "transition" more eloquently than the author, speaker, and organizational consultant William Bridges, who asserts that "it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions."

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Why Venture Philanthropy Is the Future of Giving

August 04, 2015

News_plant_giving_growth_200For decades, the formula has remained unchanged: donors give to charities, nonprofits, and other social purpose organizations — here in Canada, where LIFT Philanthropy Partners is based, more than $12 billion was donated last year — and organizations, in turn, use those donations to run their programs and offer services in their communities. Benefits are considered to be directly correlated to the size of the donation: more money = more programs and services; less money = fewer programs and services. The cycle simply repeats ad infinitum, without a real understanding of results, impact, or long-term value.

The chief executives of many of these nonprofits are so busy feeding the cycle so as to serve their vulnerable clients that they have little or no time left for the business planning or evaluation that would be the next steps in building organizational capacity. The result is real and systemic challenges that, year after year, aren’t addressed in any meaningful way. For example, despite $12 billion in donations, 42 percent of Canadians have low literacy skills, more than 20 percent of those over the age of 20 have not completed high school, and only 4.4 percent of youth get the recommended amount of physical activity.

How can we help nonprofits do more to tackle these problems? How can we ensure that every dollar of that $12 billion is being used to address the very real, very systemic challenges that are a reality for too many people? How can we get more results from hard-working organizations that are already stretched thin?

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The Parting Glass

July 30, 2015

Jane_Schwartz_Paul RapoportIn 2009, when the board and staff of the Paul Rapoport Foundation decided to spend out in five years, we focused initially on conveying our decision to our grantees with total transparency. We then worked to develop effective guidelines, assist applicants in creating strong grant proposals, and help grantees develop viable exit strategies once our final multiyear grants had concluded. We were so focused on these activities that we were all taken by surprise when we realized it was 2014 and our grantmaking was at an end. After twenty-seven years of supporting all the major organizations in New York's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) communities — providing start-up funding to many, ongoing general operating support to many more, and essential infrastructure development in our final spend-out period — the actual closing date was upon us.

Throughout the preceding decades the foundation's board and staff had engaged a number of excellent organizational consultants to help us with strategic planning, including during our final spend-out phase. When they realized our closing was imminent, all of them — either formally or informally — reached out and urged us to plan for some sort of closure, not just for board and staff but for our grantees as well. So while we had had the idea in the back of our minds during the spend-out process, holding a final event for the community suddenly became vitally important to us as a way to deal with the sad realities of closing.

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Grassroots Activism Is the Key to Transitioning America From Coal to Clean Energy

July 22, 2015

News_coal_power_plant_for_PhilanTopicWhen business reporters, industry leaders, and analysts claim "market forces" on Wall Street are behind coal's decline, they're getting it only half right. The most powerful forces driving this transition are the national network of grassroots activists and growing coalition of more than one hundred allied organizations working for a clean-energy future. All across the nation, empowered communities are defending their right to clean air, clean water, and a strong economy.

Over the past decade, health advocates, environmentalists, and community leaders have broken coal's hold on electricity production in the United States by organizing local grassroots campaigns backed by strategic litigation. After watching generations of families suffer the health impacts of coal burning, people all over the nation are taking to the streets to stand up to Big Coal. In fact, this movement recently celebrated a huge milestone when we announced the retirement of the two hundredth U.S. coal plant since 2010.

Two of the people fighting back are Wally and Clint McRae, a father and son who have fought for thirty years to protect their Montana cattle ranch from a proposed coal train that would cut right through their land. The McRaes have been active for decades in their local community, but with the support of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, they were able to bring their message to a national stage.

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Becoming a Profitable Nonprofit While Staying Mission-Focused

May 29, 2015

CuppaTypically when we think about the "business" of nonprofits, we think about volunteers donating their time and donors giving money. That may have been yesterday's model, but today many forward-thinking nonprofits are diversifying their revenue streams and asserting greater control over their bottom lines. While private support and government funding will always be critical to nonprofit organizations, it is essential that nonprofits create their own opportunities for revenue, relying less on the generosity of others and more on good business strategies to support their missions.

But how do you create new and innovative revenue streams while maintaining your charitable status and staying true to your mission? The answer may not be simple, but it is straightforward: Accept that market principles apply to everyone, nonprofits and for-profits alike. Identify organizational assets that are valuable in your local market. And partner wisely with other organizations (especially for-profit companies) whenever there's a synergistic value proposition (i.e., look for the mutual win).

At The New York Foundling, we've had great success using our real estate to advance our mission and increase revenue. In 2008, we sold six floors of our Chelsea headquarters to the New York City School Construction Authority, enabling it to open an elementary school (P.S. 340). We used the proceeds from that sale for two important mission-driven projects: a charter school in the South Bronx called Mott Haven Academy, the first school of its kind tailored to children in foster care and the child welfare system; and a medical clinic that serves not only the children in our care but other disadvantaged youth as well.

And this year we again leveraged our real estate to our advantage by partnering with for-profit coffee company COFFEED. COFFEED's business model is based on partnering with local nonprofits at each of their locations. Because we have street-level space on a busy block, we were able to offer them an extremely reduced rent, enabling them to open their first location in Manhattan, where rent and overhead costs would otherwise have been prohibitive. Up to ten percent of COFFEED's gross revenue at that location goes directly to The Foundling to support our programs and services. But it doesn't stop there; they also have provided us with marketing space within their cafe that we use to highlight issues affecting underserved youth. COFFEED has also committed to hiring our clients — teens in foster care and individuals with developmental disabilities. In fact, they've employed three of our kids already. And, of course, local residents have a new cafe where they not only have access to great food and gourmet coffee, they also get to feel good about "giving back" through the simple act of ordering a cappuccino. In other words, win-win-win.

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Scanning the Skyline: Lessons From Thirty Years of Capital Grantmaking

May 20, 2015

Headshot_chuck_feeneyBuildings have a special allure for philanthropy — their mass, their unambiguous reality, their durability, their promise of sheltering great transformative enterprise — that few other achievements can match. They also conjure a cloud of distinctive risks: the possibility of inadequate maintenance, financial drain, premature obsolescence, the danger that the activities they house may not end up being all that transformative.

For a certain kind of donor — the philanthropist as creator, whose passion is to summon new things into being — the appeal of a building, if well planned and managed, more than compensates for the risks. It can transform the physical landscape, concentrate attention and resources on important lines of work, galvanize public will, raise standards of effort and performance, perhaps make a striking architectural statement. Yet even from this vantage point, the goal is rarely the thing in itself but the activity it makes possible: superior learning and discovery, more effective human services, accelerated scientific or technological innovation, improved medical care, or intensified creative energy, will, and collaboration.

In other words, if done properly, philanthropic support for a building is not the purchase of a product. It's an investment in enterprise, a long- term underwriting of whatever goes on inside. As Chuck Feeney summed it up in 2010, capital philanthropy creates "good buildings for good minds" that in time "can make the difference in the lives of a lot of people." Partly for that reason, it is especially popular among entrepreneurial givers, for whom building a business and building a cause are related undertakings.

Admittedly, for another kind of donor — let's say, the philanthropist as reformer, whose aim is to change policies and systems, to alter ideas and practices, to improve the way societies and economies function — buildings can trigger more aversion than fascination. Their scale and finality may seem, to some, too costly and irreversible, too inflexible a bet on one thing in one place.

Among institutional funders especially, this aversion to buildings is fairly common. Unlike individual donors, institutions may not derive much satisfaction from placing their names on a structure; many also fear a latent stream of future requests to keep funding maintenance and improvements long after a building is finished. For whatever reason, as South Africa's Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs puts it, "Anyone connected with philanthropy could have told us that we would be wasting our time trying to get funding for physical infrastructure. Money could go for equipment, salaries, transport and conferences, but never, ever for buildings." An exception to that rule, Justice Sachs discovered, was The Atlantic Philanthropies.

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Communicating the Lia Fund’s Sunset Plans to Grantees

May 04, 2015

Sunset_13Randy Lia Weil believed in beauty, fairness, the human heart, and the wisdom of nature in all things. She was a dancer, teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, and artistic spirit. Gracious, graceful, and exceedingly generous, she was the catalyst for many people to create new possibilities for their lives and their dreams.

Prior to her passing in 2006, she created a trust and named a number of friends and colleagues from diverse disciplines with experience in nonprofit organizations to act as advisors to help identify potential grantees. This group created a small private foundation, The Lia Fund, to carry on her values and help realize them in the world.

The Lia Fund made its first set of grants in 2008, and for six years made grants to social change organizations in the areas of climate solutions, community arts, and holistic health and healing that promoted a holistic view of the world informed by the wisdom of nature. In recognition of the great need for resources to support grassroots organizations, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the foundation decided to spend down its assets, making its last grants in 2014.

The foundation was thoughtful in its decision to spend down, and used that decision to drive transparency in awarding grants and communicating clearly with grantees. Because of the early nature of its decision, the $5 million in grants awarded to a hundred and seven organizations were progressive, purposeful, and appropriately communicated so as to make an impact during the foundation's lifespan.

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5 Questions for...Karen McNeil-Miller, President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

April 07, 2015

They are communities which nurtured many of us and to which many of us return when we want to recharge and reconnect. The fact that they are rural and removed from the economic dynamism driving the revitalization of urban areas across the country also means they often lack the capital  financial and human – needed to improve the circumstances of people who call them home. That organized philanthropy, like much of corporate America, finds it relatively easy to overlook such communities further complicates the situation.

One foundation looking to change that dynamic is the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a philanthropy established in 1946 by Kate Gertrude Bitting Reynolds, the wife of William Neal Reynolds, chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, to improve the health and wellness of low-income residents of North Carolina. In March, PND spoke with Karen McNeil-Miller, the trust’s president, about Healthy Places North Carolina, a new place-based initiative focused on rural areas of the state.

Headshot_karen_mcneil-millerPhilanthropy News Digest:  The Reynolds Charitable Trust has always supported efforts to improve the health of North Carolinians. What's new about Healthy Places NC?

Karen McNeil-Miller: Well, for us, almost everything. For instance, we're not leading with money, which is a huge thing. We're not going into these communities saying, "Here's our agenda, apply for a grant." We're going into these communities and, essentially, are trying to help them organize themselves. In a way, we're leading from behind instead of leading from in front. The trust is deferring its goals to the goals of the community; we want the community to determine what it needs or what it would like to change, and then we'll bring our resources to bear to help them achieve those goals.

PND:  Beyond a lack of resources, what are some of the challenges unique to rural communities that you aim to address through the initiative?

KMM: Well, one of the things we want to address is the building of human capacity. These days, it's hard to get folks to move to rural communities, which means if you want to help these communities thrive, you have to build the leadership capacity of the people who are already there. 

We also want to help them, where we can, with access to care. In so many rural communities, you may have a primary care physician or two, but hospitals and specialty care are much less common. So, through the initiative, we've been helping community-based organi­zations invest in tele-health infrastructure, whether it's tele-psychology, or tele-therapy, or even tele-osteo­pathic medicine. 

Of course, one of the most plentiful assets in rural communities is land. So helping communities make the best use of their land assets, whether it's through building an amenity like a playground, or bike or walking trails, or any of the other things that make communities more livable and healthy, is something we're interested in.

What's harder to address is job creation. But if we can help local people see the connection between physical and mental health and economic health and help them build their capacity to partner with local government to create the kinds of amenities that help attract jobs and improve quality of life for everyone, that will be big. We want everybody to start thinking that health is their business, not just the purview of healthcare institutions. It's about broadening the conversation to people who don't normally see themselves in the health business, to people in law enforcement, to people in the educational system, to business and industry, and bringing them all together to talk about what they can do to make their community the healthiest community possible. 

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In Pursuit of Better Outcomes Through Transparency-Fueled Adaptability

March 13, 2015

AdaptabilityIf you're a small foundation aiming to achieve greater philanthropic impact, how can transparency be a tool? At the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, we're using it to drive impact through better project management and improved grantee relationships: transparency for adaptability rather than accountability.

Open access to biodiversity information to benefit nature and society is our mission. The principle that data access enables change applies to philanthropy as well as conservation and aligns well with our foundation strategy and culture. And transparency underlies a number of our practices, including customized progress and financial reports, detailed report reviews, amended grant agreements and plans, and regularly updated project Web pages.

From the first steps in the grant application process through the final grant report, we try to model and achieve openness and accessibility. An important moment for new grantee relationships is an orientation video-conference that introduces our approach to managing the funded project. We use the call and future communications to promote the continued refinement of thoughtful qualitative and quantitative indicators that can lighten a grantee's reporting burden and allow us to collaboratively identify areas where plans need to change. Then, during the project, we regularly remind project directors that the plan made months or years earlier to win our funds was merely the starting point; they need to execute on the plan to meet their stated goals today, and that requires flexibility on their part – and ours. When a grantee is transparent about something that has gone wrong, we'll help them revise their budget and plan to do what makes sense based on the changed circumstance. Rose-colored reporting and rigid grant agreements don't serve anybody well, while candor in the grantee-funder relationship keeps small challenges from becoming big problems. We also try to keep a promise to our partners to match our attention to milestones and metrics with our enthusiasm to adapt to emergent challenges and opportunities.

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The Power of Crowdfunding to Fight Ebola

January 10, 2015

Globalgiving_ebolaIn December, TIME magazine named Ebola Fighters — doctors, nurses, caregivers, scientists, and medical directors "who answered the call," often putting their own lives on the line — as its "Person of the Year." We couldn't agree more: local West Africans and long-time residents like our friend and partner Katie Meyler and her colleague Iris are courageous, vital, and worthy of support.

While much of the emergency funding from private donors and companies has been channeled to U.S. government partnerships and programs, we've been focused on helping donors reach the "last mile" with their donations. Aaron Debah is familiar with that last mile. Aaron, a Liberian nurse, has rallied his neighbors to go house-to-house to combat rumors and misinformation in a culturally relevant way. He's also producing a local radio show about Ebola to spread the message more widely in the community. Through Internews, GlobalGiving donors are funding motorbikes for community activists, a scanner/copier/printer, and mobile phones, among other items. Through their actions, people like Aaron are making an enormous difference in the fight against the virus at a hyper-local level.

$3 Million and Counting for Locally Driven Ebola Solutions

At the end of 2014, we announced that we had helped raise more than $3 million for Ebola relief from donors in sixty-eight countries through the GlobalGiving community. We're currently crowdfunding for twenty-nine community organizations that are preventing and fighting the spread of the virus in West Africa. By giving to local nonprofits that are deeply rooted in the affected areas, donors are supporting organizations that were creating change in their own communities long before this Ebola outbreak — and will be there to drive the recovery of the region over the long term.

More than 3,800 individuals have given to over thirty Ebola relief projects on GlobalGiving.org and GlobalGiving.co.uk, including GlobalGiving's Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund. In November, a $200 donation to the fund came from a community of concerned people in Mozambique: "Though it may not seem like much, this is equivalent to two months minimum wage here. Thank you for connecting our hearts with fellow Africans who are suffering!" said Brian, the man whose family collected and sent the donations to GlobalGiving.

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Archiving Simply: How FACT Prioritized Sharing

October 20, 2014

Headshot_diane_feeneyOver its eighteen years of existence, the French American Charitable Trust focused its grantmaking on strengthening community organizations in the United States and France. (We are a bi-national family.) So when we made the decision to spend down the foundation in 2012, we soon realized we had boxes and boxes of files to sort through – not a task on my to-do list I was looking forward to!

Fortunately, a colleague suggested I get in touch with Brown University, which has a program on community organizing and was looking for additional resources. The librarian at Brown asked me to send her a complete accounting of our files, which included documents ranging from board meeting notes to program assessments to grantee reports. She was interested in all of it, and her staff was able to sort through the files, catalog and archive them, and make them available to students and faculty. What a relief!

But we had more to do. Some of our documents were more relevant to the philanthropic community, and we didn't want those to only be available in Providence, Rhode Island.

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

September 06, 2014

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

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

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

(Running time: 18:08)

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

The Sloping Reality of Spend Down

May 09, 2014

(Jeffrey Solomon is president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. This post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog.)

Headshot_jeffrey_solomonImmense change is part of life for any foundation that is spending down. Employees are naturally concerned about their futures, while management is focused on smooth organizational transition.

So it is no surprise that of all the managerial issues presented in time-limited foundations, those involving human resources – and the emotional toll attached – claim the greatest amount of energy and deserve a great deal of thoughtful and purposeful attention.

Two recent pieces in this series captured ground-level dynamics of employees choosing to leave or join a time-limited foundation. And so here, it's logical that I address some of the personnel management issues that have emerged during this period at The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP).

From the inception of ACBP in 1986, Andrea and Charles Bronfman understood that staff was the most important resource. Our founders manifested that understanding in a variety of ways – some practical, some symbolic – but all with the objective of developing, incubating, supporting, and integrating staff as key players in realizing ACBP's philanthropic mission.

One example of this was the existence of a full-time human resources manager and an information resources management professional on our staff. While this may appear standard, even mundane, for us it was not. These positions could well have been outsourced, considering the relatively small size of our staff. But their in-house presence underscored the centrality of their roles and the high value placed on personnel in the overall ACBP framework.

Neither of these positions exist now – one is outsourced and the other has been absorbed by an existing staff member – even though ACBP is still slightly less than two years from complete spend down. This simple fact well reflects the sloping reality of operating in a spend-down environment, and doing more with less in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

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Catalyzing Impact Investments Through Coordinated Grantmaking

March 19, 2014

(The following post was adapted from "From Grants to Groundbreaking: Unlocking Impact Investments," an ImpactAssets issue brief by Amy Chung of Living Cities and Jed Emerson.)

Illustration_ImpInvPhilanthropy and the practice of grantmaking traditionally have been very separate from traditional investing in both culture and approach, but the emerging field of impact investing invites a productive collaboration between these two disciplines. Indeed, in an increasingly resource-constrained world, the ability to drive more impact investments into the communities and issues we care about is imperative. In the paragraphs that follow, we will explore how family foundations, philanthropic institutions, and public funders can use their grants strategically to unlock future impact investments in social businesses and socially driven business models that are either too risky or not ready for investors seeking financial returns.

In traditional capital markets, there are clear roles that different investors play in the sequence of financing for organizations as they move from seed stage to later stage. In the impact investing field, the role and needs of investors at different stages follows a similar though less clearly defined path. The relatively recent proliferation of socially driven business models makes it challenging for many to identify opportunities that are ready for investment or that have enough of a track record to provide confidence in their future returns. While such an environment provides investors with opportunities to be creative with financing, it also requires increased transparency and communi­cation from investees, funds, and intermediar­ies to accommodate different risk and impact profiles within the same deal or investment opportunity.

In many cases, the work of innovative socially driven business models may be accelerated by combining various types of impact invest­ment capital, in effect "stacking" capital that requires a financial return with capital that does not in order to "buy down risk" or otherwise make a deal happen that philanthropy or market rate investment alone would not be able to achieve. Because grants do not require repayment or a rate of financial return, they can be used more flexibly in certain transactions. For example, grants may be used to provide guarantees, fund a loan loss reserve, or serve as flexible lending capital, each of which may be needed in order to leverage or attract capital seeking a return. Coordinating grants with investment in this way may not only reduce the risk associated with particular transactions, but also can support socially driven financing models, thereby enabling impact investment opportunities that might otherwise not be possible.

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Venture Philanthropy and Development

March 06, 2014

(Heather Grady most recently was vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and currently is serving as an advisor to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. As a member of the Rockefeller Foundation executive team, she provided vision, leadership, and direction to help the foundation achieve its goals of building resilience and promoting equitable growth and also managed a diverse group of professionals in the U.S., Asia, and Africa working in a a range of areas, from climate change, agriculture, and health to transportation, impact investing, and employment. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Heather_grady1Venture Philanthropy in Development (90 pages, PDF), a new report from the OECD's NetFWD, charts the directions that many foundations and individual philanthropists are taking to tackle today's social, environmental, and economic challenges. While the term venture philanthropy has been around for almost half a century (credited in the report to John D. Rockefeller III, who said it was "the imaginative pursuit of less conventional charitable purposes"), it is seen as an emergent field, and there is little enough agreement on the term itself that the originators of the report gave scant attention to precisely defining it.

At a panel I moderated on the occasion of the report's launch, common dimensions of venture philanthropy were easily identified: high engagement with the grantees supported within any particular portfolio; provision of non-financial as well as financial support with a targeted group of grantees (e.g., convenings); an entrepreneurial start-up approach; a blending or even blurring of the lines between grant contributions and investments for financial return; working at a systems level to influence a combination of practice, policy, markets and even public opinion; and focusing on a positive enabling environment to achieve success.

The report is based on research from which the authors conclude that those sharing in depth their venture philanthropy experiences (the Rockefeller, Lundin, Shell, and Emirates foundations) were on a transformational journey, one that was not a "from-to" path but a much more inclusive and – as I read it – meandering one. As an integrative approach, it provides new opportunities for foundations to work with their grantees differently, and also for coalitions of foundations, civil society organizations, governments, and businesses to enter differently into shared ventures, not unlike the collective impact approach.

I learned a new term when one of the main researchers, Alexandra Stubbings, told us that the approach may force foundations to do a "drain-up" review. While that sounds fairly unpleasant, philanthropic institutions do need a good shaking out now and again.

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