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Philanthropic Leadership: Examples From the Field

October 23, 2008

Earlier this month, we posted a portion of an "open letter" from Council on Foundations chair Ralph Smith and CoF president/CEO Steve Gunderson that offered three broad recommendations to the foundation community as it struggles to come to grips with the current economic situation: reach out to the nonprofit sector; play an active and visible role in helping communities and regions figure out the scope and extent of the challenges they face; and pay special attention to situations where the loss of philanthropic resources could be the unintended consequence of mergers and consolidations that are the inevitable product of economic restructuring.

At the time, the council promised to share some of the ways in which other funders are responding to the challenges in their communities. A recent memo from the council captures some of those ideas and approaches:

In consultation with its board, the Dade Community Foundation convened an "FYI Miami Seminar" for the local nonprofit community to discuss the impact and implications of the community-wide funding environment. The foundation has also scheduled a meeting for its donors and professional network later this month.

The Philadelphia Foundation has taken a number of steps (canceling a 90th anniversary celebration, issuing its annual report in an online format only) to cut costs and apply the savings (more than $100,000) to its pool of grantmaking dollars.

Philanthropy Northwest, a regional association of grantmakers serving the Pacific Northwest, convened a group of human service funders in Washington state to discuss a coordinated response to increased funding for nonprofits focused on "safety net" issues. The Seattle Foundation and United Way followed up by inviting all those at the earlier meeting, as well as representatives from Boeing and Microsoft, to further discuss the idea of a coordinated response. Those two organizations are organizing a structured inquiry of local nonprofits to get a better sense of the problem in King and Pierce counties. And it is planning to sponsor a roundtable conversation for funders "who are struggling with how best to respond."

At its annual conference in November, Indiana Grantmakers, another regional association of grantmakers, will present a number of sessions that bring grantmakers and nonprofits together to discuss what it really takes to make an impact -- more important then ever, in light of the challenging economic climate.

The Hyams Foundation in Massachusetts has increased its commitment to PRIs and will continue to do so, especially in the area of affordable housing. In addition, Associated Grant Makers, the regional association for eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is planning to convene a group of funders to discuss the current situation and recently held a conference for its nonprofit partners to discuss the issue.

The Lawrence Welk Foundation in Southern California is encouraging and organizing its trustees, as well as their teen and adult children, "to assess their talents and offer them voluntarily to nonprofits in their geographic areas."

And the Chicago-based Abbie Norman Prince Trust recommends that foundations "increase the percentage of grants made to provide general operating support for grantees." Foundations need to be reminded, says a representative of the trust, that "only effective organizations can provide valuable services over the long haul."

The council promises to continue to gather and disseminate strategies and approaches adopted by its members in response to this crisis as they become available.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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