168 posts categorized "Strategies"

Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

The resulting Agenda for a Just Future aims to:

  • End youth incarceration as we know it.
  • Fight for a roof over every head.
  • Eliminate oil drilling near homes and schools.

The foundation does not compete with its grantees but instead looks for ways to exercise its power in roles that support grantees. For example, it has organized pooled funds to advance policy initiatives. Foundation staff have met with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times to influence the coverage of issues that are important to grantees. And staff are working to leverage longstanding relationships with public officials, advocate around grantee issues, and organize wealthy progressive philanthropists to move more of their funds to grassroots groups.

The foundation's long-term investment in building relationships with grassroots leaders makes it easier for it to be effective in the face of urgent threats. It's also why community organizers are willing to provide forty hours of their time over a four-month period to serve on a community funding board and help Liberty Hill’s staff and board make grant decisions. While they can ask for reimbursement for their service, very few do. The advisory board, in turn, helps build accountability within the foundation and fosters stronger ties to and trust among members of the community.

Funders in communities less progressive than Los Angeles can have the same kind of impact by adopting two practices modeled by Liberty Hill:

  1. Invite grantees to inform your strategies, decisions, and practices via surveys, grantmaking and advisory boards, and ongoing conversations.
  2. Keep asking, "How can we help?" and use your foundation's power to play an advocacy role that complements your grantees' strategies.

Liberty Hill Foundation did not panic in the face of systemic attacks on the communities it is committed to serve. Instead, the foundation's leaders, informed by the deep relationships they had forged  over decades, made an honest assessment of the foundation's role in the social justice ecosystem in Los Angeles. Our current social and political climate requires other funders to do the same: recognize and step into your power and, in partnership with marginalized and underrepresented communities, use it to move our economic, legal, and educational systems toward greater equity.

Headshot_jeanne_islerJeanné L.L. Isler is vice president and chief engagement officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

Philanthropy Delivers an Outcome — and Its Name Is Brett Kavanaugh

October 07, 2018

Kavanaugh_swearing_inWhen the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it was a significant victory for the Federalist Society, and for the foundations that support the organization. It also represented something — an outcome and real impact — that philanthropists of all persuasions crave, and it was achieved through, that’s right, general support grants.

Widely credited for writing the playbook that has guided the Trump administration's judicial nominations strategy, the Federalist Society, by any measure, has been wildly successful. Since Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, the U.S. Senate has approved two of his picks for the Supreme Court and some fifty lower court judges. With an additional hundred and fifty appellate and district court seats to be filled, the administration, with the help of the Federalist Society, is on track to have put in place nearly a quarter of all active judges by the end of 2019.

The organization describes itself as a

group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. [The Society] is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be….This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community....

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the society receives tax-deductible donations from individuals, but foundations contribute roughly one-quarter of its annual funding. Since 2006, 127 foundations have made $39 million in grants to the organization, 53 percent of which has come from five foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley, Templeton, Mercer Family, and Sarah Scaife foundations, in addition to the Searle Freedom Trust. Nearly half of those grants have provided general operating support to the organization, giving it the freedom to use those resources to further its goals without donor-imposed restrictions.

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[Review] How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

July 30, 2018

Social movements are nothing new. People always seem to be marching for — or against — something. Part of this is due to the fact that social movements often take decades to achieve the change they seek, while many never get there.

Book_how_change_happens_3DWhile there is no simple recipe for social movement success, Leslie Crutchfield, executive director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and her research team have identified a number of patterns that distinguish successful social movements from those that didn't succeed and shares them in her latest book, How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't. The six she identifies are a focus on the grassroots; a recognition of the importance of state and local efforts; a commitment to changing norms and attitudes as well as policy; a willingness to reckon with adversarial allies; acceptance of the fact that business is not always the enemy and often can be a key ally; and being "leaderfull."

Crutchfield argues that successful social change leaders invariably recognize the importance of advocating for a shift in social norms, not just policy reforms, and that they never prioritize one over the other. And to support her contention, she shares some key insights from successful change leaders. In the movement for marriage equality in the United States, for example, LGBT advocates used polling research to reframe the focus of the campaign's messaging from "rights" to "love" and "commitment," which in turn led to the dissemination of now-familiar slogans such as "Love is Love" and, eventually, a change in marriage laws.

To further illustrate how change happens, Crutchfield highlights a number of instances where a movement prevailed over a determined counter-movement that strayed from one or more of the patterns. Most telling, perhaps, is the success the National Rifle Association has had "in defending and expanding the gun rights of gun owners in the United States" through a relentless focus on grassroots organizing. Indeed, "[t]he gun rights movement's grassroots army is the reason why, despite the waves of angry anti-gun protests, heartbreaking vigils, and pleading calls for reform that erupt after each tragic mass shooting…gun violence prevention groups still largely lose ground." Over the years, NRA leaders have been laser-focused in growing and emboldening their grassroots base through community events such as barbecues and town hall meetings. In contrast, gun safety advocates have been more oriented "toward elite politics at the national level" and in "push[ing] a comprehensive gun control bill through Congress." The dichotomous results of the two approaches speak for themselves and serve as additional support for Crutchfield's contention that the single most important decision movement leaders have to make is whether "to let their grassroots fade to brown or...turn [them] gold."

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'100&Change' Solutions Bank: A Unique Resource for Funders

March 28, 2018

100&Change_Solutions_BankOur original goal for 100&Change, an open competition for a single $100 million grant, was fairly simple: identify a project outside our usual networks that with substantial resources disbursed over a compressed time period (three to five years) could make significant progress in addressing a critical problem. And we succeeded. In December 2017, MacArthur's board of directors selected an early childhood intervention project, a collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee, as the recipient of the $100 million grant. The other three finalists — Catholic Relief Services, HarvestPlus, and the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health (Rice University) — were each awarded grants of $15 million and a commitment from MacArthur to help identify additional sources of funding.

After we launched the competition, however, we realized that 100&Change's open call had an important side benefit: the surfacing of a wealth of ideas for solving problems around the globe, ideas at various stages of development but good ideas nonetheless. We were logging those ideas into a database here at the foundation but soon recognized the database could be a public resource serving other funders who might find interesting projects to support, communities looking for innovative solutions to their challenges, and problem-solvers and researchers looking for others with similar interests. So, after a number of conversations and phone calls, we found ourselves collaborating with Foundation Center on the 100&Change Solutions Bank, a searchable (by geography, subject area, keyword, and Sustainable Development Goal) repository of submissions to the 100&Change competition.

Interesting, right? But maybe you're not sure how the Solutions Bank can help you. No problem. Here are four sample use cases:

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A Marriage of Commerce and Cause: How Rotary Is Staying Relevant in the 21st Century

June 20, 2017

Time_to_adaptIn 1905, a lawyer, a merchant tailor, a mining engineer, and a coal dealer met in downtown Chicago. Rotary's founders initially were looking for an opportunity to build relationships and promote their businesses. A hundred and twelve years later, Rotary has matured into one of the world’s largest membership and humanitarian nonprofit organizations.

The work of Rotary's 1.2 million members combines the building of community connections with humanitarian efforts such as promoting peace, providing clean water and sanitation, preventing disease, and alleviating poverty — challenges that are just as pressing today as they were when Rotary was founded.

Yet, as is true of many large organizations in the world today, Rotary faces the ongoing challenge of staying relevant at a time when technology and organizations new to the NGO space are changing the landscape of philanthropy.

For example, the number of social sector organizations in the United States has increased some 8.6 percent since 2002, while by some estimates there are now approximately 1.44 million nonprofits registered with the IRS. Part of this growth reflects society's increased reliance on nonprofits to fill service gaps in areas where cash-strapped governments are no longer able to deliver on past promises.

In addition, with a greater range of charitable opportunities and new models for fundraising (e.g., peer-to-peer, mobile, crowdfunding), there is increased competition in the nonprofit marketplace for both supporters and donations.

In the face of these challenges, how can nonprofits like Rotary continue to thrive? Over the past few years, Rotary and its members have been thinking about that question and, after much discussion, have developed a plan to address the challenge. Below are three concrete steps we have taken or are taking.

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‘Justice Matters’ and the Power of Film to Persuade

June 12, 2017

JusticeMattersEach year, Justice Matters, a special series within Filmfest DC, the annual Washington, DC International Film Festival, shines a spotlight on some of the best new social issue films from around the globe. This year, three of the films were judged outstanding by jurors and audience members.

Filmmakers throughout the history of the medium have felt the need to address injustice, poverty, and other social concerns, prodding audiences to reflection and action, a tradition that continues today. As Filmfest DC founder and director Tony Gittens noted in launching Justice Matters in 2010: "What better city to highlight this tradition than our nation's capital, the vortex of ongoing debate on how best to further democracy and equitable treatment for all." And what better time than the present.

I was happy to catch the Justice Matters 2017 program during this year's festival in April. I had attended Justice Matters in 2012, highlighting 5 Broken Cameras in an earlier PhilanTopic post and was eager to see this year's selection of films, especially The Good Postman, an intimate story about the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe set in Bulgaria, where I'd lived for two years.

This year's lineup included eight award-winning films that explore some of the most pressing challenges of our time and some of the most creative and courageous responses to those challenges: corporate corruption (150 Milligrams); corrosion of public trust and the need for a free press (All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone); the privatization of public education (Backpack Full of Cash); refugee integration (The Good Postman); the crisis in Syria (Last Men in Aleppo); and climate change (Tomorrow). Two of the films mined the past for lessons and inspiration: one a personal recollection of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (The House on Coco Road); and a musical quest set during Freedom Summer (Two Trains Runnin’).

(All the films should be available in other festivals, theaters, broadcast, or on the Internet. More information about each is on the Justice Matters site and/or on the films' websites.)

Jurists for the series included Conrad Martin, executive director, the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and executive director of the Fund for Constitutional Government; Montré Aza Missouri, founder and director, Howard Film Culture; and Kathryn Washington, director of diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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[Infographic] Navigating the Online World of Nonprofit Storytelling

June 03, 2017

Storytelling is as old as fire. And over the millennia, storytellers have left us a trove of sayings and observations about the power and importance of good storytelling.

"It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling" (Khalil Gibran)

"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all" (Joseph Campbell)

"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell" (Annette Simmons)

Yes, some of the settings in which stories are told have changed, as have many of the techniques. But as this week's infographic, courtesy of the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University, reminds us, "Stories" — the kind that people remember and respond to — "chronicle a character who undergoes some kind of change or transformation." Joseph Campbell couldn't have said it better.

Here at PhilanTopic, we've been exploring the world of stoytelling with the likes of Thaler Pekar (here, here, here, here, and here) for close to a decade. But even we were surprised by some of the findings presented below. (And, yes, in the nonprofit world at any rate, text still rules.) Enjoy!

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A Call for Inflection Point Funding

May 15, 2017

Broken_ladder"A strategic inflection point is the time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

– Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It's always been important to think about how private philanthropy can fill gaps in the social safety net that government, with its lower risk tolerance, cannot. At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we're increasingly attracted to inflection point funding — not a new concept but an approach that provides a different lens through which to look at our efforts. What makes inflection point funding interesting, in my opinion, is that, in addition to strategic partnerships with other funders, catalytic initiatives, and targeted solutions, it forces us to look hard at the obstacles that keep low-income youth from realizing their full potential.

Inflection point funding seeks to change the course of young people's lives at key junctures. I think of it as a ladder offering underserved children a way out of poverty. A child may move easily through the early stages of development, but at some point a rung in her development ladder will be missing or broken. Then what? In too many cases, she gets tired or discouraged and stops trying to climb.

Most of us are familiar with the ladder metaphor. Less familiar are the challenges so many disadvantaged and underserved kids face when trying to climb the ladder to success. Suppose, however, that with philanthropic support, we could develop solutions that enabled every underserved child to reach the next rung, and the rung after that, and the rung after that (or even the first rung). If you look at inflection point funding as a way to support kids who desperately want to climb the ladder to a brighter future, you'll understand why we're attracted to it as an approach.

That said, it isn't always easy to identify inflection point opportunities. There are no guidelines, only questions in need of answers. My own first question always is: Could our funding for a strategic intervention create opportunities for  young people to reach new heights? And, conversely, could the failure to solve the problem lead to other obstacles and challenges for the young people we were hoping to help?

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5 Questions for...Claudia Juech, Associate Vice President and Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation

May 04, 2017

Since joining the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia Juech has led the foundation's efforts to identify and assess new, large-scale opportunities for impact across the foundation's priority areas and spearheaded its horizon scanning activities, informing both strategy and programs.

Recently, PND spoke with Juech about Rockefeller's "scan and search" activities, an approach the foundation is using to bring more diverse voices into the earliest stages of its work, ensure that all early-stage decisions are based on the best available evidence, and ultimately do the most good with the resources it has.

Headshot_Claudia_JuechPhilanthropy News Digest: What were the factors that led Rockefeller to adopt the "scan and search" approach? What are its benefits over more conventional approaches to philanthropic investment? And has your background in finance shaped your thinking about what the foundation can and should do to maximize its impact?

Claudia Juech: We wanted to develop a tool that would help the foundation generate the most impact for its investment — and to do that, to truly achieve transformative change, we needed to cast a wider net. That entailed a couple of things: in addition to being guided by our in-house experts, we realized we needed to reach out and listen to a broader spectrum of voices, and to look at problem areas that we hadn't considered previously. And we wanted to find ways to put the "winds of change" at our back — to identify changes that were already happening and could help us achieve our impact goals.

In comparison to more conventional philanthropic approaches, it's very open-ended and opportunity-driven. Rather than settling on a strategy or approach beforehand — say, increasing agricultural productivity — and then doing research to confirm our assumptions, we look at problems affecting vulnerable populations and try to keep an open mind in terms of deciding which issues we want to work on and how.

We're looking at big spaces, big fields, big problems where we want to make big bets. And there are a couple of things from my experience at Deutsche Bank, where I was responsible for trend monitoring, that I've tried to apply to my work here — using futures methodologies, for example, to predict "winds of change" trends. We start by looking quickly at about a hundred options, potential big bets, and then winnow them down to those we think will generate the biggest bang for our buck. I see some similarities with venture philanthropy in the belief that not every investment will have the impact you want, and that you look across a wide range of options and try to place informed bets. We look at a broad range of options, from cybersecurity concerns for the poor, to issues of energy poverty, to urban food insecurity, to neglected tropical diseases, and we ask where we could make the most headway, and what we can bring to the table in terms of our assets and competencies. Eventually we'll move on to dedicated, rigorous research and stakeholder consultation on a short list of options.

PND: What are some of the challenges you faced in shifting to the "scan and search" approach — internally with foundation staff, as well as externally, with grantees? And are there any lessons you could share with the field?

CJ: I think the short answer is that the work is not any easier with this approach. It might provide a broader array of opportunities and in the end lead to better results, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a "silver bullet," any more than other approaches would. We've learned a couple of things, though. Internally, there have been a lot of questions about the staff's "ownership," engagement, and role in shaping these ideas. Typically, our investment ideas had been developed by, for example, someone leading the foundation's agricultural program, so when a separate "scan and search" team was tasked with casting a wider net for ideas, well, it initially created some tensions and challenges. It was a change-management process for the first two years. And in some ways I feel that tensions will always exist around mechanisms designed to ensure that outside perspectives are included in the planning process and that we don't fall into programmatic silos, which is one of the things scan and search is meant to address.

Over the years, we've developed different processes designed to bring in our colleagues and their expertise. We work closely with our in-house experts, who are our partners and advisors in the work of surfacing new ideas, and we use various facilitation methods, internal huddles, ideation meetings, and the like. In fact, some of those methods are now being used after the work has progressed to a later phase. So, we've advanced the work of the foundation not only substantively but also methodologically.

Externally, because scan and search is used in the very early stages of the initiative pipeline, the implications for grantees have not been that dramatic. We reach out to a broader universe beyond our grantees, to experts and people who can provide insights or who are directly affected by the problem. Although often the work we do ends up informing the work our grantees are doing as well.

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A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Socially-responsible-investingOne hundred percent of foundations and philanthropists have set up their portfolios for "impact." But in the words of Heron Foundation CEO Clara Miller, "they just don't know if their impact is positive or negative."

The assumption has been that foundations and philanthropists would be among the earliest adopters of investment strategies that align their portfolios, their values, and the social change they are trying to achieve. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to the Global Impact Investing Network's 2016 Annual Impact Investor Survey, foundations in 2016 accounted for only 4 percent of an estimated $77.4 billion in impact investment assets under management. At the same time, there is much in the report to be excited about, starting with the finding that survey respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the performance of their impact investment portfolios. In fact, "[e]ighty-nine percent (89%) reported financial performance in line with or better than their expectations, and 99% reported impact performance in line with or better than expectations."

There are many foundation leaders who are well aware of the potential of impact investing to drive social and environmental change. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, principal of Blue Haven Initiative, captures the sentiment of a growing number of philanthropists: "Just your philanthropic dollars are not enough to solve big world problems. We have a responsibility to use everything we have to make an impact."

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

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"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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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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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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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2016)

September 03, 2016

"By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer's best of weather and autumn's best of cheer...." ~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Ah, summer, we hardly knew you. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend and getting to spend some of it with family and friends. While you're waiting for beverages to chill and the grill to get hot, check out some of the posts PhilanTopic readers gave a big thumb's up to in August.

What did you read/watch/listen to in August 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.

4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

August 15, 2016

Eco-InnovationToo often foundations ask their grantees for "innovative ideas" but fail to deliver the same thing themselves — or even bother to define what "innovation" means. The assumption is that it "just happens." That lack of definition has come to imply that innovation must involve a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.

As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula: How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, I now realize the opposite is true. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas. Here's what I learned from their book, and how I've applied it when working with my clients.

Supportive environments for innovation are created when:

  • Leadership – especially the CEO – serves as champions for the process.
  • Leadership believes that everyone can be innovative.
  • Leadership is willing to regularly identify, test, pilot, and implement potentially innovative ideas.
  • Leadership prudently monitors risk (not every innovative idea is a good one!).

Once these conditions are in place, there are four steps a foundation can take to generate innovations on an ongoing basis. They are:

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