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13 posts from October 2021

'Elements of a strong and sustainable funder-grantee relationship': A commentary by Susan Olivo and Brad Turner

October 29, 2021

Students learning to read on mobile devices_BenetechBuilding long-term partnerships with nonprofits to scale impact: Lessons from sustained funding relationships

Every foundation wants a nonprofit partner that shares in and will deliver on its mission. Every nonprofit wants to engage a funder that is willing to collaborate and help them grow. But while shared vision and mission are important, they are not everything. What are the elements of a strong and sustainable funder-grantee relationship that drive meaningful change and impact?

The Lavelle Fund for the Blind has long worked in partnership with its grantees to empower people who are blind and visually impaired to lead independent and productive lives. The fund pursues this impact by supporting direct services, such as vision screenings and larger-scale, systems-focused work. While funding direct services provides immediate and measurable benefit, focusing on systems change is more of a long-term investment. 

The fund's work with the nonprofit software organization Benetech falls squarely into the "systems-focused" category. When Benetech launched its Bookshare initiative in 2001 to help blind and visually impaired people access the printed word, the fund recognized the huge impact this technology could have if brought to scale and became one of Benetech's earliest supporters. This support ultimately helped Benetech earn a U.S. government grant to scale Bookshare nationally. Today, Bookshare provides nearly a million individuals who are blind or have other reading barriers with the accessible materials they need to read, learn, and build independent lives....

Read the full commentary by Susan Olivo and Brad Turner, executive director of Lavelle Fund for the Blind and vice president and general manager of global education and literacy at Benetech.

(Photo credit: Benetech)

Health justice and participatory democracy: An interview with Hanh Cao Yu, Chief Learning Officer, California Endowment

October 27, 2021

Headshot_Hanh_Cao_Yu_TCEEven before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the California Endowment (TCE) had been working to move from Building Healthy Communities, its place-based initiative, to an effort that provides more flexible funding to the organizations and communities it works with to build power across California. For example, TCE increased the share of grant dollars awarded in general operating support from 3 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2020.The foundation is on track to further increase flexible funding so that communities and grantees have more freedom to determine how best to use those funds.

Hanh Cao Yu is TCE's chief learning officer, in which role she is responsible for learning, evaluation, and impact activities and ensures that local communities, local and state grantees, board members, and staff understand the results and lessons of the foundation's investments.

PND's Matt Sinclair spoke with Yu about the foundation's effort to promote "People Power" and how the pandemic has affected its relationships with grantees.

Philanthropy News Digest: What does "health equity" mean? How is it different from "health justice," and to what extent has the foundation's idea of "health justice" changed in the wake of the pandemic and its impact, especially on communities of color?

Hanh Cao Yu: For us at the California Endowment, health equity has three parts: We want to achieve the highest level of health for all Californians, improve the systems and conditions of health for all groups, and make sure that those who've experienced racism and socioeconomic and historic injustices are helped and supported — because health equity helps advance social justice.

In terms of health justice, which is also a North Star of ours, the focus is on outcomes, whereas health equity is focused on the process of how we got to where we are today. At the heart of equity is the ability to meaningfully participate, to have a voice, to be heard, and to help set the agenda of the priorities for your community.

Even before the pandemic, TCE was working to achieve health equity in a major initiative called Building Healthy Communities, which is about investing in groups that are serving and led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color fighting for health systems reforms and the transformation of our justice system, as well as equitable public education and more inclusive community economic development.

Health justice is also about robust, participatory democracy, and it's good for equitable community health.

Read the full interview with Hanh Cao Yu.

Review: The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream

October 25, 2021

Book_cover_david_m_rubenstein_the_american_experimentAt seventy-two years old, David M. Rubenstein remains curious and keeps asking questions. The billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, the world's third largest private equity firm, is curious about American history and how that history helps define what being an American actually means. As an investor and philanthropist, Rubenstein is keenly interested in what motivates people and society to do hard things. And while he demurs from calling himself a journalist, on the David Rubenstein Show on Bloomberg News and History with David Rubenstein on PBS, Rubenstein has in recent years pursued a reporter-like thread through conversations exploring the myriad facets of American identity and how they are reflected in our business practices, the arts, our communities, and above all our civic life — that is, how we understand and exercise our rights and obligations as citizens.

The American Experiment: Dialogues on a Dream is Rubenstein's third collection of ideas and interviews exploring the nature of America. While many of these conversations occurred as early as 2017, several took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, some as recently as this summer, giving an existential sharpness and immediacy to Rubenstein's narrative. Rubenstein has been described as a patriotic philanthropist, notably footing the bill for improvements to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, among many other gifts. And in a very real sense, The American Experiment is an extension of that philanthropy; sharing his idea of America — his received wisdom — with an America fraught with immense challenges, but gifted with extraordinary opportunity....

Read the full review by Daniel X Matz, foundation web development manager at Candid.

As COVID persists, New York's youth need nonprofits now more than ever

October 22, 2021

Boys_and_girls_town_nycThis was not the "return-to-normal" back-to-school season many of us had hoped for. Remote learning and isolation for more than a year have left many students, especially the most vulnerable, behind. On average, K-12 students are now an estimated five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. And there is a mental health crisis among teenagers hit hard by loneliness. While schools, families, and government agencies continue to provide substantial support for youth, it is simply not enough. Nonprofits are playing a vital role in supporting our youth through this pandemic and its fallout.

As executive director of A Chance In Life, a New York City-based nonprofit that supports at-risk teens through positive youth development, I've seen how essential such organizations have been over the past eighteen months. We operate all over the world and recently opened a center for youth on Staten Island, our first U.S. program. The demand for our services, which include paid internships, food distributions, and afterschool programs, has been high.

As schools, government agencies, and the private sector come together to improve the lives of youth and their families, nonprofits must have a seat at the table. They can help mitigate COVID-related learning loss, provide supportive social reintegration settings, and use their local connections to provide support where other entities fall short.

The negative repercussions of the pandemic on youth and their education are staggering. The effects are even more pronounced for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students and those from high-poverty districts. Educators are doing everything they can, and I am deeply thankful for their work. But volatile conditions and insufficient funding have put them in an impossible position. Moreover, budget and time constraints limit teaching to core subjects, leaving little room for the additional support many students need.

Nonprofits are perfectly positioned to provide extra support to supplement students' classroom education with free tutoring, afterschool enrichment programs, and distribution of school supplies. They can also broaden students' education to include topics that don't always make it into school curricula, like financial literacy education.

Just as essential are the spaces for social development nonprofits provide — away from the pressures of exams and grades. Teens have been particularly negatively impacted by the social isolation of COVID-19, with 61 percent of young adults surveyed in a recent study reporting feeling lonely. Detachment puts young people at risk for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Nonprofits offer safe, enriching spaces that foster peer-to-peer connections. Whether it is for group tutoring, an internship or a music lesson, it is important to carve out room for teens to be themselves and form bonds away from outside stressors.

In addition, the close community ties many nonprofits forge through their work help them recognize problems sooner. And they can respond with solutions more efficiently because they're less constrained by red tape than government agencies.

As COVID-related budget cuts stretched social services to their limits, nonprofits have been stepping up. A Chance In Life chose Staten Island as the site of our first U.S. program in part because it had fewer social programs than other New York City boroughs. Nonprofits across the country have done the same by setting up shop in neighborhoods that have been most neglected — whether the problem is a lack of public transportation, crowded schools, or food deserts.

For-profit businesses that care about giving back should also work with nonprofits to achieve a meaningful and sustainable impact — for nonprofits are the link to the community. Community-based organizations, their leaders, and staff have built local relationships and know where resources are needed. Nonprofits use their trusted voices to let residents know how to access donations from businesses. They also know where to go in a community to reach the people who need those resources the most.

For example, this past August, we partnered with another community-based organization, Staten Island Community Partnership, and ShopRite to distribute food donated by the supermarket chain. Without the corporate donation, we would have had no food to share with our neighbors, but without our connections with local residents and physical presence in the borough, ShopRite would not have known where to distribute that food.

We may not yet have returned to "normal." But nonprofits are willing, ready, and able to ensure that the nation's youth are supported, no matter the state of the city. I urge those in influential positions — leaders in government, business, and philanthropy — to actively support and include nonprofits as we all work towards solutions to this crisis.

(Photo credit: Boys' and Girls' Town of New York City)

Headshot_Gabriele_Delmonaco_PhilanTopicGabriele Delmonaco is executive director of A Chance In Life, a nonprofit dedicated to providing shelter, education, and development for at-risk youth.

The sustainable nonprofit: Amplifying and validating your message and mission

October 21, 2021

Keyboard_red_donate_button_GettyImagesGivingTuesday, together

In the face of global uncertainty and turmoil during the last eighteen months, many of us came together to find strength and solace in various forms of "community." Around the world, people wrote, logged in, and marched, connecting in new ways to old friends and finding new partners in a common cause. This drive to find and support a community has helped bolster the nonprofit sector, with U.S. charitable giving reaching new heights in 2020. It is this drive that nonprofits must connect with on GivingTuesday — the drive to create partnerships and build engagements. 

Giving days are always about securing buy-in from prospective donors — buy-in of not only the cause itself but of the day's fundraising goals. As prospects see organizations' campaigns and progress toward their goals unfold in real time, they realize that the day's outcome hinges on their sense of community: Do they care enough about the cause to give? Are they engaged enough to share this ask on social media? Do they feel a sense of pride when a milestone is reached or a match is achieved? While the goalpost in fundraising often is seen as the gift itself, on a giving day — especially GivingTuesday, when the nonprofit arena is loud and chaotic — the goal has to be more than the gift. The goal has to be advocacy on your behalf — that is, amplifying and validating your organization's message and mission. 

Achieving that goal requires careful preparation and extensive planning by development staff in the leadup to GivingTuesday. Here are a few steps nonprofits can take to advocate for themselves, expand their communities, and strengthen donor engagement....

Read the full column article by Amanda Lichtenstein, digital content manager at Operation Smile.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

'The ability to connect more deeply': A Q&A with Eric Pannese

October 19, 2021

Headshot_Eric_Pannese _ClassyEric Pannese, senior vice president of product management and design for the giving platform Classy, has more than twenty years of experience in the technology sector. He joined Classy after two years at Medallia, a SaaS-based customer experience management platform, and in his role leading product development, he will work to ensure the delivery of products that meet the needs of nonprofits to drive increased funding and greater impact.  

PND asked Pannese about the benefits of nonprofits prioritizing digital practices and user experience, the shift toward mobile giving, the impact of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency giving, and the future of AI use in the nonprofit sector.

Philanthropy News Digest: Nonprofits can be slow tech adopters, given the limited staff time and budget they can dedicate to tech. What are the benefits for nonprofits in prioritizing digital practices such as management platforms, CRM systems, cloud data storage, online dashboards, and digital reporting?

Eric Pannese: The benefits of technology are the same for nonprofits as any other company, which starts with the ability to connect more deeply with customers, or in this case, donors. Modern fundraising platforms, together with CRMs, can collect many data points about the donor and use these to create more personalized experiences, ultimately resulting in more donation revenue for the organization.

Technology can also create internal efficiency as many processes can be automated that were previously manual or nonexistent. Of course, any new platform is going to require an upfront investment in terms of resources to implement. The great news is that modern SaaS (software as a service) platforms are designed to reduce the initial time and cost to implement significantly, putting technology within reach for resource-constrained nonprofits.

With that kind of technology, nonprofits can create intuitive, engaging giving experiences for their donors, which can mean higher conversion rates and more funding. Our platform provides nonprofits with the formats and flexibility to activate donors when and how they need to by creating more relevant connections to their causes. And it allows them to reinforce those connections over time through powerful data and purposeful tools.

Read the full Q&A with Eric Pannese.

'Tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic': A commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods

October 18, 2021

News_mental_health.2Five tips for rapid grantmaking during a global pandemic: Lessons learned supporting adolescent mental health organizations during COVID-19

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread losses people have suffered — of loved ones, jobs, safety, and a sense of normalcy — community-based organizations are stepping up to bridge the gaps in social services. While government agencies are slower to move resources in response to real-time and evolving needs, philanthropy can act quickly and mobilize resources through rapid-response grantmaking.

At the Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, we've seen firsthand the challenges of reviewing high-volume, short-turnaround proposals. The initial concept for the fund was proposed in July 2020 as a collaborative COVID-relief fund at Panorama to focus on adolescent mental health and well-being, and was seeded by Melinda French Gates' Pivotal Ventures with additional support from the Klarman Family Foundation. Over the course of three months, we developed a grantmaking and implementation strategy supported by an advisory committee of practitioners, policy experts, and researchers, and issued a request for proposals in late October, with applications open for six weeks. The fund received 485 proposals from forty states and the District of Columbia, and to date has awarded more than $11 million to ninety-two organizations.

We'd like to share five considerations for rapid grantmaking that were critical to our process and designed in the spirit of advancing trust-based philanthropy. Some validated our own grantmaking principles at Panorama, such as the importance of giving general operating support grants, while others were unique to processes required to execute on an expedited timeline....

Read the full commentary by Sierra Fox-Woods, a program officer for Panorama's Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health.

 

Building better futures for young refugees through education

October 14, 2021

Globe_handsThe emergency evacuation that recently unfolded in Afghanistan once again placed a spotlight on the plight of the world's refugees. It is a recurring crisis. In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that of the 82.4 million people forcibly displaced from their countries in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations, or other events, thirty-five million were under the age of 18. That's a staggering number of young people forced to live without the support, structure, and safety of their communities and unable to move beyond their present circumstances.

Tragically, education, which is so essential for young people to achieve their full potential, is overlooked when considering the welfare of refugees.

While working in Angola in the late 2000s, I saw firsthand the downstream consequences for people who grew up in refugee camps or far from their home communities with limited to no access to education. Make no mistake: Fleeing to neighboring countries allowed those young people to avoid forced conscription, brutal and violent war, and in many cases death. But few had the opportunity to pursue education beyond elementary school, and this no doubt hampered the post-war development of Angola, a country that experienced one of the longest civil wars of the twentieth century.

The current situation in Afghanistan is equally as urgent and dire. Afghan students and academics are under daily threat. We have not forgotten the attacks in 2016 on the American University of Afghanistan, when fifteen people were killed and at least fifty injured, including students, professors, and staff.  

To offer one solution to the ongoing refugee crisis in Afghanistan and around the world, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has launched and funded a new scholarship for student refugees and displaced persons. The IIE Odyssey Scholarship covers tuition, housing, and living expenses for refugees and displaced students pursing undergraduate or graduate degrees for the duration of their degree programs. We also created new scholarships for students from the now closed American University of Afghanistan. With these scholarships, displaced students will be able to safely continue their studies at college campuses abroad.   

In designing the Odyssey Scholarship, we leveraged our global network and expertise from within our regional offices. A regional approach has an additional benefit because 73 percent of displaced people are hosted by countries in the same region, according to UNHCR.

In addition, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has launched the Hilde Domin Programme, which supports students who are denied education in their home country. In Mexico, Proyecto Habesha began by supporting young people fleeing Syria, offering Spanish language training, financing, relocation support, and opportunities to study at Mexican universities. Their unique public-private programs grew over time, and today Proyecto Habesha brings displaced students from all over the world to live and learn in Mexico.

For all of these programs, the goal is to enable students to learn, grow, and one day return home to rebuild their countries. However, more must be done. At a time when crises around the world are worsening, resources for the displaced are severely lacking.

We know from our more than hundred-year history the importance of education in unlocking human potential. When young people have the opportunity to pursue their studies in safety and security, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. At IIE, we design and grow high-impact programs and make our programs sustainable by fundraising and building endowments that are prudently invested and managed. This is the model under which our longstanding programs and the new Odyssey Scholarship operate. 

IIE and our international network of colleges and universities have been working to provide practical solutions to threatened students from all over the globe and secure their safety. Real solutions require long-term commitment and support. We cannot allow for a lost generation among the refugee community. The resilience and determination we are seeing from displaced students and scholars should encourage us all to find a way to help.

Headshot_Jason_Czyz_IIE_PhilanTopicJason Czyz is executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Institute of International Education.

[Review] How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us

Book_cover_how_we give_nowEvery day, we give. In many, many ways. Though we might not realize it, we are constantly giving our time, our money, and, as Lucy Bernholz, senior research scholar at Stanford University's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), reminds us, our personal data. In How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us, Bernholz asks us — the non-wealthy givers — to expand our definition of philanthropy to include the numerous ways in which we are already participating in society, and to do so with more consciousness around how we give.

In writing this book, Bernholz engaged individuals and groups across the nation in reflective discussions about all the ways in which they direct their private resources for public benefit, beyond what is traditionally captured in official giving data. The stories people shared — in big cities and rural towns — are brought to life in the book and highlight the array of giving options we have.

Over the last few decades, income inequality in the United States has been worsening. As the wealthy get wealthier, their contributions are fueling a steady rise in charitable contributions, but fewer and fewer families overall are engaging in philanthropy and volunteering. To help us better understand why, Bernholz presents a broader "givingscape" — one that includes all the ways we — "the rest of us" — are asked to give in today's fast-paced digital environment....

Read the full review by Sarina Dayal.

How do we ensure that the largest transfer of generational wealth in history will be put to charitable use?

October 12, 2021

Bundles_of_money_$100_bills_Pictures_of_MoneyFor the past seven years, I have had the incredible privilege of running my family's foundation. Spending my working hours leading a team that makes decisions about how to give away funding, I am in the unique position of seeing up close the instrumental work nonprofits are doing to address the needs of our communities. From housing our unsheltered neighbors to connecting vulnerable young people with caring mentors, nonprofits ensure that donated dollars reach the people who need them most.

Yet charities doing this important work continue to face financial hardship. One report found that more than a third of nonprofits across the country are at risk of closing within two years. In addition, the nonprofit workforce has lost nearly nine hundred and sixty thousand jobs, a devastating blow to local economies and the most vulnerable in our communities. 

While the outlook is uncertain for nonprofits, the baby boomer generation is in the midst of planning the largest generational transfer of wealth in both U.S. and world history. At the federal level, we have long-established charitable tax deductions as a tax policy to incentivizes us to give. Now is the time to restart a public conversation about what we mean by charitable giving.

I am a proud Minnesotan. Minnesotans are generous people — setting aside money for the public good is in our DNA. Our largest corporations led the nation in charitable giving in the latter half of the twentieth century. Over the next two decades, Minnesotans will act on their generosity by setting aside money to support those charities we all understand to be both essential and in a precarious financial position. Yet the fact is that our current charitable giving laws no longer work as intended to increase the flow of resources to charities — at a time when they urgently need help.  

Currently, donors can set funds aside in charitable intermediaries — private foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs) — and claim the full tax benefits of charitable giving. However, there's no guarantee that these funds will ever be put to charitable use; the connection between charitable tax benefits and benefits to charities is tenuous at best. Taxpayers are left footing the bill without any certainty of receiving the public benefits that working charities provide.

The data make clear that we need to modernize our charitable tax policy. Over the years, there has been a substantial shift in giving towards DAFs and private foundations and away from direct contributions to charities. According to a report released in May, charitable giving by individuals as a share of income has hovered around 2 percent over the past forty years, while contributions to DAFs and private foundations have grown from 5 percent in 1991 to 28 percent of all individual giving in 2019. Today, more than $1 trillion sits in private foundations and DAFs combined.

All this charitably directed wealth could do tremendous good, but in order to protect the vitality of the nonprofit sector, policy changes are needed to ensure that DAFs and private foundations distribute funds to working charities more quickly. Community foundations and other public intermediaries can play a unique role by educating newer donors about pressing issues and connecting them with community leaders. No matter how it happens, donors who claim the full tax benefits of charitable giving need to feel the urgency of actually giving that money away.

My family created our foundation as a way for us to work together to professionally give money away. We have grown closer by building working relationships with community leaders and investing in transformational ideas. But the most important and fulfilling part of my job is very simple: making sure we meet our annual giving budget with fidelity so that the foundation's endowment is spent down by 2044. So much of our society is focused on the efficient accumulation of wealth; it is my hope that charitable giving laws encourage DAFs and private foundations to make charitable distributions that meet or exceed their endowment's long-term financial returns.

Having lived through the last year as a resident of Minneapolis, I know all too well that we face compounding social issues that cannot be left unaddressed one more day. Today's philanthropists should be helping to advance solutions to today's problems by shifting our attention and resources away from private control and toward community.

(Photo credit: Pictures of Money)

Headshot_Bill_Graves_PhilanTopicBill Graves is founding president of the John and Denise Graves Family Foundation. An earlier version of this article was published in Worth.

'It's not enough to just approach giving through a racial equity lens': A commentary by Edgar Villanueva

October 11, 2021

BlackLivesMatter_protest_fist_minneapolis_foundationFor philanthropy, racial equity isn't enough: Why we've moved to redistribution to address the racial wealth gap:

The past few years have seen a radical shift in philanthropy, a shift that was further fueled by George Floyd's murder, the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, the ongoing pandemic, and a polarized presidential election. More companies, funds, and philanthropic organizations have come to better understand the importance of racial equity in their giving and the very important role philanthropy can play in addressing the racial wealth gap in the United States.

My organization, Decolonizing Wealth Project, and its corresponding fund, Liberated Capital, have been proud to help spearhead this movement. But recently, we came to a hard conclusion: It's not enough to just approach giving through a racial equity lens; we must shift from a conversation solely about grantmaking to redistribution through reparations if we want to honestly tackle and close the racial wealth gaps in this country. As funders we have the opportunity both to redistribute our wealth and to fuel the movement for reparations.

Last month, Liberated Capital made our first grants totaling more than $1.7 million as part of our #Case4Reparations funding initiative, a monumental step in this movement. This first-of-its-kind multiyear, multimillion-dollar initiative supports community-driven reparations advocacy and movement building efforts to redistribute wealth — both money and land — to Black and Native American communities....

Read the full commentary by Edgar Villanueva, founder and principal of Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital.

Invest in your operations teams to drive your mission forward

October 08, 2021

Like many sectors, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have experienced a tidal wave of changes, adjustments, and challenges over the course of the pandemic. The need to direct funding toward efforts to meet emerging community needs, combined with the movement to bolster social justice causes, have highlighted new issues — or perhaps exacerbated existing ones — in operational structure.

Many nonprofits and philanthropies have come under pressure to be more efficient and effective than ever before. The dollars just haven’t been invested to support the kinds of operations needed to carry out such a heightened level of giving in addition to addressing emergency programs. Don't think about operations in a narrow sense; for philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their boards.

Operations graphic PND

Most philanthropic organizations take pains to carefully design and redesign their mission, strategy, and programs. Yet, few invest time in improving their daily operations to deliver on plans to meet their strategic goals, a step that is essential to making meaningful community impact. Sound planning without excellent execution is unlikely to produce the desired results.

It isn't enough to add operations staff when they’re needed. Organizations must frame operations as a function and manage it as a process with a defined plan, including giving it the same level of attention and subjecting it to the same rigorous evaluation as efforts to design, monitor, and manage their mission, strategy, and programs.

Improving operations processes has become even more important with the development of emergency programs and social justice funding, which have required an increased level of responsiveness even as the volume of grant applications has significantly increased. For example, one foundation I’ve worked with used to receive thirty applications for each program annually; this same funder now receives a hundred and fifty applications while having to meet a faster turnaround requirement. This makes existing processes and policies impractical. To fulfill the foundation's mission and achieve its goals, it has become more essential than ever that nonprofit and philanthropic organizations invest significantly in their operations teams.

Skill development and training are table stakes

Operations success requires specific assets and abilities including detail-orientedness to produce desired results, strong project and task management skills, effective problem-solving capacity, and a deep working knowledge of process management and improvement. At the same time, operations teams must have expertise in a wide variety of systems and procedures. Philanthropic tools have gone from a few select systems to a wide array of resources that are vital to each organization. And each year more tools are becoming available.

The first step in enhancing operations expertise is to identify employees with an operations aptitude, then provide them with process management and improvement training. This can involve everything from adapting existing tools and changes in communication to implementing new and improved forms and process changes.

By investing in the skills development of operations teams, organizations can enable employees to transform how work is done, significantly reducing turnaround time and increasing community impact. At the same time, the organization as a whole can gain a better organization-wide understanding of the value of operations work and show renewed appreciation for their teams, which, in turn, can lead to higher satisfaction among core workers.

Invite operations into the C-suite

Being efficient and effective also means greater commitment to scrutinizing how work is done. This includes identifying staff and leadership to focus on monitoring operations outcomes while managing processes and systems, which can involve identifying an operations professional in each major function of the organization.

For example, I’ve seen organizations place an operations manager in their philanthropic services team who works across departments to improve collaboration and communication. Others identify an operations leader who owns and drives finance and operations team planning, project management, and process development.

It is also essential, however, to bring operations into the strategic discussions happening at the executive level. Some organizations I've worked with are grouping functions that are highly operational into one leadership role — a chief operations officer — who is responsible for effectively managing the organization’s infrastructure, processes, and resources. I've also seen organizations choose to add operations to an existing leader's role, often the CFO. Elevating operations to the executive level will help ensure that the necessary process and system conversations are included in the design and redesign of an organization’s mission, strategy, and programs.

Ongoing coaching and training for an ever-changing environment

Investing in operational excellence is not just a one-time prospect. As organizations, technologies, and the needs of communities evolve over time, providing ongoing training and coaching to teams and leaders is necessary if an organization is to continue delivering positive impact effectively. Building process muscle and capacity can help organizations consistently raise more money and make more grants on a year-over-year basis without dramatic increases in their budgets. Creating a culture and structure that supports ongoing training and process improvement also helps employees feel more confident and pursue solutions.

Operations staff may feel second-class compared with their counterparts in a structure that excludes them from mission and strategy design. Conversely, if organizations invest in these teams, they feel empowered to take initiative on behalf of the organization.

Making a positive community impact is possible only when effective operational practices are in place. Foundations need to build their operations capabilities and accountabilities, which will enable them to focus on both planning and operations. By moving the conversation beyond mission, strategy, and programs to the details of how the work gets done, organizations find creative ways to maximize their resources and help them support their communities efficiently and effectively.

Headshot_lee kuntz_PhilanTopicLee Kuntz is founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc., and a certified operations coach. She provides training and coaching to help teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create tangible results in operations efficiency and effectiveness.

'Philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as government': A commentary by AJ Dahiya

October 06, 2021

Globe_Afghanistan_India_WorldMaps_via_StockSnapWhat philanthropy can learn from Afghanistan:

I recently read the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from 20 Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction to try to understand how the investment of $145 billion in reconstruction dollars over two decades could be so decisively and spectacularly undone in a mere ten days. 

The section that stood out the most for me was titled "The US Government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly." It details how the Americans tried to superimpose Western models onto Afghan institutions, unintentionally empowering corrupt power brokers and unwittingly supporting projects that were meant to mitigate conflict but often exacerbated it. In large and small ways, this lack of cultural context extended to all they did. For example, the new schools being constructed were designed to American standards, with a heavy roof that required a crane to install, yet cranes could not be used in the mountainous terrain of much of the country. 

Reflecting on these tragic lessons in hubris, money, and power, I see so many important lessons for our own work. 

In truth, philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as governments. How often do we assume that because we have the resources, we also have the solutions? Do top-down attempts at movement building make any more sense than attempts at nation building? How do we shift our ways of thinking and doing to move from saving those in need to a focus on serving them? 

Read the full commentary by AJ Dahiya, chief vision officer of the Pollination Project.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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