Have You Heard of the Sammies?

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy

Most people know the Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys, but have you heard of the Sammies, the “Oscars of government service”?

According to the Partnership for Public Service, the organization that administers the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, the medals are given to “outstanding federal employees who have made a significant difference in the lives of Americans.” It’s fascinating to learn about this year’s Sammie finalists, the work they are doing, and what inspires them to public service.

Given that some 14% of the DC-metro area workforce are federal employees (surprisingly, only the fourth most concentrated of U.S. metro areas), most DC-area residents know at least a person or two who works for the government. I’m not alone in knowing several: a senior grant manager at the IMLS, economist at the ERS, educator at SAAM, statistician at the GAO, attorney at the DOL, managing director at OPIC, and, of course, the familiar face at my neighborhood USPS. It is my own alphabet soup of friends and acquaintances.

At Exponent Philanthropy’s upcoming 2014 National Conference, October 30 – November 1 in Washington, DC, we’ve asked colleagues at Grantmakers for Education, Grantmakers In Health, Grantmakers in the Arts, and Environmental Grantmakers Association (GFE, GIH, GIA, and EGA, respectively – our own philanthropic alphabet soup!) to invite federal colleagues with whom they and their members have emerging or established relationships to join us for topical learning labs on Engaging With Government.

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The Fiduciary Standard in Investment Management—Why Is It So Important?

By Peter J. Klein, CFA, CRPS, Klein Wealth Management at HighTower Advisors

Financial advisors who work with investment committees of foundations, endowments, and other philanthropic entities find the fiduciary standard an important component of their work. But many are actually not fiduciaries. In fact, the Dodd–Frank legislation of 2010 required the SEC to study the fiduciary standard, because there is a good deal of confusion among investors as to what it really means.

Why is the fiduciary standard such an important area of discussion? What does it mean for the portfolio and the ultimate outcome for the charitable entity? To demystify this issue and provide a glide-path to charitable boards who are making important decisions about the advisors mandated to watch the organization’s most important asset—its portfolio, let’s begin with a definition:

Fiduciary: an individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money; the relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another’s benefit

This appears to be a simple principle, and most readers might be thinking, “I already have a fiduciary managing my foundation’s portfolio, right?” But do you?

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8 Organizations Developing Young, Social-Minded Leaders

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

The Talent Philanthropy Project recently wrote a blog post about funders who invest in nonprofit leadership. Among the nine funders identified as leaders in this area were two Exponent Philanthropy members (Community Memorial Foundation and Meyer Foundation) and several partners.

This article got me wondering: What nonprofits in the social sector are developing and supporting talented, social-minded Millennials and Gen Z’ers? What organizations should be on the radar of these funders and others like them?

To start, here are 8 programs and networks investing in young leaders. They are inclusive, accessible, and pushing participants to think big about the future.

  1. Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) – A national network with 12 chapters, EPIP works to develop leaders committed to building a just, equitable, and sustainable society. Chapters provide local learning and networking opportunities, and the national arm builds a voice for a generation aimed at transforming philanthropy.
  1. Fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders (Aspen Institute) – This program aims to provide nonprofit leaders with the tools and perspectives necessary for effective, enlightened leadership. Participants are given the opportunity to move beyond daily operational concerns to take time for the “blue sky” thinking and exploration of core values that animate their work and inspire them to become more effective, innovative, and inspiring leaders.
  1. Net Impact – Net Impact is a worldwide network with over 300 chapters and 50,000 student and professional members. They provide the network and resources to inspire emerging leaders to build successful “impact careers” – either by working in jobs dedicated to change or by bringing a social and environmental lens to traditional business roles.

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The Pulse: Economic Hardship, Courage to Adjust Course

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

I regularly explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series   

Working Americans Struggle to Earn a Living

Recent articles spotlight continuing economic hardship faced by millions of working Americans, including nonprofit employees, and the forces responsible. Key trends include the high cost of housing and health care, low wages, and lack of income growth in recent decades. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, median income for working-age households (headed by someone under age 65) slid 12.4% from 2000 to 2011, to $55,640.

I highlight two articles:

  • The San Francisco Chronicle profiles the impact on nonprofits of steep increases in the city’s real estate costs, which makes rents difficult to afford for employees and their organizations. The squeeze has fueled demonstrations by nonprofits and their supporters at City Hall and City Council meetings. Protesters point out that the mayor’s proposed increase in allocations for nonprofits is less than the increase for city workers, and call upon the city, which relies on nonprofits to deliver crucial human services, to increase its allocations. Journalist Marisa Lagos writes, “nonprofits and their workers have seen little increase in the amount of money they get from the city—just 5% since 2007. From 2007 to 2012, there were no increases, and many have had to cut staff or services to stay solvent.” One nonprofit that offers housing, counseling, and other services to people with chronic mental health problems has seen rent hikes as high as 135% at some of its buildings.
  • The New York Times highlights a newer challenge for American workers–businesses’ use of computer scheduling models to increase staffing efficiency and reduce labor costs. The computer models disrupt regular work schedules, making it more difficult for parents to align work with their children’s daycare and school schedules. Journalist Jodi Kantor follows Jannette Navarro, a single mother in San Diego who struggles to support herself and her 4-year son on a $9-an-hour job. Ms. Navarro’s work schedule is cut into continually changing, irregular slices, forcing her to improvise her son’s daily care, and preventing her progress toward an associate degree in business. Writes Kantor, “Like increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers, Ms. Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers.”

A Nonprofit Shares Its Data and Improves Its Field

Continual innovation in technology offers new opportunities for funders and nonprofits to use data to make smart decisions. As thought leaders like Lucy Bernholz have pointed out, one promising use of data is for nonprofits and foundations to share their evaluation and research data publicly to increase effectiveness for all.

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Large and Small Funders Partner to Benefit Community

By Jennifer Acree, Flint Associate Program Officer, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Nick Deychakiwsky, Civil Society Program Officer, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; and Kathi Horton, President, Community Foundation of Greater Flint

Much is being written in the “philanthromedia” today about funder collaboration, which is all very good but appears mostly in broad terms. One type of partnership does not always receive its due: partnerships between large and small funders.

Of course, what is large and what is small is up for interpretation, but, in this case, our emphasis is on staff size and geographic scope more than assets and budget.

Because this is a special year—the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the nation’s first community foundation—we wish to highlight some examples of how the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (Mott) and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF) work together to advance the good of our home community of Flint, Michigan, and the surrounding county.

The unique capital of large and small funders

Although Mott is often thought of as mainly a national and international funder, typically anywhere from 25% to 35% of annual grant dollars go to our home community. The foundation has strong and deep roots in Flint, and yet our local grantmaking is greatly enhanced by working with Flint’s community foundation.

As a large foundation, our most valuable and effective capital is financial. Mott also draws on its connections and relationships on the national and global levels to introduce ideas that enhance the local work of both institutions. Whereas CFGF also deploys significant financial resources for community benefit, its most valuable and effective capital is social. CFGF can more readily catalyze the interest and ability of a broad swath of community members to engage in community problem solving. The community foundation is closer to the ground, bringing community knowledge and resident engagement to the community issues both foundations address.

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The Way Forward: Find, Fund, and Support Social Entrepreneurs

By Bill Draper, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation

In this open letter to philanthropists working with few or no staff, venture capitalist turned venture philanthropist Bill Draper outlines an approach to address today’s social issues. Just as the best venture capitalists achieve enormous, outsized impact in their chosen for-profit investments, each of us, as investors in the nonprofit arena, can strive for the same returns. Draper, one of the first to transfer his venture approach to philanthropy, offers a 3-step model and examples of successful investments.

At the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, we have one singular belief that drives everything we do. We believe that, with early funding and rigorous support, exceptional social entrepreneurs tackling some of society’s most complex problems can make the world a better place. It’s that simple.

We’ve taken this one singular belief, borrowed from our venture capital legacy, and created a unique model, proven over a decade, for working with world-class social entrepreneurs. We find, fund, and support leaders with exceptional promise and impactful ideas that have the potential to scale.

A time-tested three-step process

It’s hard work to be sure, but over the past 12 years, we have seen these organizations materially impact the lives of millions.

  • Find—Through exhaustive due diligence on hundreds of potential portfolio opportunities, working in close contact with partners, networks, and institutions crossing the public, private, and non-profit sector, we narrow our focus on a select group of exceptional leaders and organizations.
  • Fund—Early on, we recognized two things that drive our funding model: 1) unrestricted capital is the most precious capital that our portfolio companies need to build out their organizations; and 2) multiyear funding, as opposed to a one-time grant, is a critical success factor in helping these great organizations achieve scale.
  • Support—We also have learned that just giving early stage organizations money and checking in periodically isn’t enough. Our approach is materially different. We partner with the leaders of these organizations and provide rigorous and unrelenting ongoing support. We take a board seat for 3 years, often serving as the first outside board member. We work day and night with our grantees, opening our networks and contacts to each of these select organizations, facilitating meetings, convening critical resources, and working side by side with each leader to help all reach their full potential and build their organizations to scale.

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Program Notes: A Mindset Shift for Successful Collaboration

Collaboration is not new, but there is increasing interest among grantmakers in how to be smarter in collaborative work and in the factors that can facilitate (and undermine) success. Last month Exponent Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations co-hosted a call to examine a particular form of collaboration: networks. While networks can take a variety of forms and have varied levels of formality, we describe them as people, groups and organizations connected by relationships and shared values.

What did we uncover about what makes networks work well?

We turned to Amanda Standerfer of Lumpkin Family Foundation who has played an active role in the creation of Good Works CONNECT, an online community space and resource center for nonprofits across Eastern Illinois to form relationships, share tools and resources, and grow and improve their work. Joining her was Megan McTiernan of Thomson Family Foundation, steering committee member of Asset Funders Network, a community of funders committed to informed grantmaking practices that promote asset building and economic security.

A key theme emerged: While the seemingly simple of act of coming together to share ideas, resources, and practice can produce profound results, it doesn’t always come naturally. Part of what enables networks to take hold is a shift in mindset — a shift in how we see ourselves and our organizations relative to the issues or missions we are working on. Instead of being the hub of the action, successful collaborators see themselves as participants in a shared ecosystem working toward a shared outcome. This shift to a more collaborative mindset also requires greater comfort with shared decision-making and control, and often longer and less-clear timeframe for outcomes that characterize networks and other collaborations. The hope, of course, is that outcomes, once they emerge, are greater than what a single funder could achieve alone.

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If Only We Are Intentional

By Sara Beggs, Exponent Philanthropy 

Philanthropy is changing for a host of reasons, but perhaps most of all because funders are demanding more from it. The expectation that funders will be able to achieve impact, and see that impact, changes everything. No longer are donors satisfied with the mere act of writing checks. They want to see results.

Add to this “results orientation” several other realities of today’s philanthropic landscape:

  • Philanthropy is more critical, being called to fill in for government cuts.
  • Philanthropy is more complex, tackling not only the symptoms but underlying systems.
  • Philanthropy is more confusing, with really smart people sharing opposite views of “effective giving”: head versus heart, data versus intuition, proactive versus responsive.

Put these realities together, and the good work of philanthropy can quickly become more intimidating than fulfilling. It’s even tempting to throw up your hands and hope your giving will magically produce great results.

But what I’ve seen in my work with hundreds of funders over the past 14 years is that fulfillment and impact can be achieved—if only we are intentional. But what is intentionality?

To Fund With Intentionality

Being intentional in philanthropy involves the following steps:

  • Identify and articulate what you want to achieve. No other step is as critical for fulfillment and impact in your philanthropy. It is just a fact that we can only do a few things well. Focusing your giving helps you prioritize not only your grants, but your time, your energy, and everything else you bring to the table. It also makes it easier to know where to look for impact. Apply for our new Finding a Focus Intensive
  • Learn enough about your area of interest to make educated decisions. Just as successful businesses assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, successful funders understand the context in which they operate. It is critical to grasp key players, field dynamics, funding sources, effective strategies, gaps, and more so you can make educated decisions.

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Funding Media to Move Your Mission

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy, and Pam Harris, formerly of Media Impact Funders

Media has enormous power to inform and educate, shift policy, shape public opinion, and make social change happen. From documentary film to investigative journalism to social media campaigns, media projects are increasingly the keystone to successful philanthropic work on education reform, environmental protection, poverty, economic justice, and much more.

Grantmakers are supporting media to move their missions, understanding that their programmatic priorities depend on reaching key audiences and bringing critical attention to important social issues in ways that only media can.

In addition to this piece, the Knight Foundation’s Five Things You Need to Know; 5 Ways to Get Started is an excellent resource for funders exploring ways to use media effectively.

You Can Start Small

Successful media funding doesn’t require billions in assets or complex programmatic restructuring. Effective media projects vary in size and scope, as do the funding structures behind them.

Plant some seed (money). Early stage projects from documentary films and social media campaigns to community radio stations and online news hubs all need small but early investments to get to critical proof of concept stages.

Invest in journalism. Funders concerned with complex social issues such as homelessness, poverty, education, and healthcare often face diminished journalism coverage of issues and even less investigative journalism. Funders can play a key role in elevating public understanding and scrutiny of policies by supporting a journalism fellowship or public media programming focusing on their issues of interest. See these resources on ensuring accountability and integrity in funding journalism

Serve the information needs of your community. Cities and towns across  are reeling from the collapse of the traditional media sector and witnessing newspapers close down, reduced budgets for city hall coverage, and major gaps in reporting on issues that matter. After the Rocky Mountain News shut its doors, the Community Foundation of Boulder County helped to support a fledgling news source, I-News, which partners with existing news outlets in Colorado and conducts the kind of long-form investigative news that is missing from so many communities.

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Millennial Voices in Philanthropy: Alexis Marion

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Join me to explore the values and visions of emerging leaders of a socially minded generation. Below is an excerpt of my recent conversation with Alexis Marion, program assistant and junior board advisor with the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation in Studio City, CA. In 2013, Alexis participated in Exponent Philanthropy’s inaugural class of Next Gen Fellows.

Alexis Marion

Exponent Philanthropy member Alexis Marion

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I’m serving a dual role as program assistant and junior board advisor. Participation in the junior board starts at age eight. Since its inception, junior board members have received $2,000 per year to make individual grants. In addition, our board approved a special Collaborative Grant of $50,000 for 2014 just for the junior board. I assist them in conducting a regular grant cycle, including due diligence, planning around grant application and review, coordinating meetings, reaching out to potential grantees, and attending site visits. Ultimately, the group reaches an agreement on the grants it would like to award and presents its recommendations to the foundation board.

Our foundation is at an interesting turning point. We recently added new board members and have experienced success with the Youth Philanthropy Connect program since its creation in 2010. As we become introspective and think strategically about the best path forward, I’ve also gotten involved in our strategic planning process.

What are you interested in, both in and beyond philanthropy?

Within philanthropy, I really love our youth philanthropy program. Philosophically, I love it; I love that we engage youth early on.

More generally, impact has been on my mind for a while now. When I attend conferences, I usually gravitate toward sessions on impact. I’ve noticed plenty of conversation about numbers—number of grant dollars, people served, and various achievements. I think the human aspect is missing. Why do we actually do this work? I don’t know how you measure that; is there even a way to think about it that makes sense to foundations?

Diversity is one of my other main interests. The word “diversity” tends puts people off from the get-go. One thing I think about is, “How do we include as many different perspectives as possible?” I know it’s possible and I believe it’s valuable. Perhaps this has something to do with being young and idealistic, but that’s also why I believe it’s so important to get young people involved and engaged.

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