Put Your Point of View Into Play: 2014 National Conference Panelists Discuss Trends, Path to Solutions

By Courtney M. McSwain on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Changing U.S. demographic trends, advances in technology, political polarization, and geographic mobility all impact the way communities are addressing social problems today. This was the underlying message conveyed at Friday’s spotlight panel, on the second full day of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference.

2014 National Conference spotlight panelPanel moderator Michael Dimock, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, set the framework for the morning’s discussion by outlining social trends affecting philanthropy. The influence of Millennials was among the biggest trends discussed, especially the way younger citizens leverage technology to work outside of the walls of traditional institutions.

“Millennials want to see change, and they don’t care where the change is coming from,” said Gabriel Kasper, senior manager at the Monitor Institute.

The expert panel agreed that technology shifts, in many ways, facilitate Millennials’ ability to form nontraditional communities of change as well as create entrepreneurial approaches. “Millennials are bringing an entrepreneurial sprit to problem solving,” said Kim Jordan, co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing and founder of the New Belgium Family Foundation.

Moreover, technology broadens access so that marginalized segments of society can circumvent institutions that shut them out. James Shelton, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, offered the ridesharing program Uber as an illustration of this point. “People think of it as a very convenient ride, [but] for thousands and thousands of people, it is a new small business,” Shelton said.

Patty Stonesifer, president and CEO of Martha’s Table, furthered this point by noting that the spirit of Uber will ultimately deliver disruptive innovations in philanthropic service delivery. “What’s the Uber of matching our excess food with families in need?” Stonesifer asked. “Technology can change the whole system…we’ve only scratched the surface of this.”

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2014 National Conference Opens to Themes of Urgency, Impact

By Ebonie Johnson Cooper on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Although we may not realize it, Americans today make data-driven decisions almost instinctively. Who books a hotel room without reading online reviews or makes a restaurant reservation without consulting Yelp? We rely on crowdsourced evaluations to inform our choices on everything from dating to shopping. Yet how many of us consider data when making philanthropic decisions? How many ask about a nonprofit’s impact? About the number of lives transformed?

MichaelSmith-PlenaryThis was the challenge presented this morning by Michael Smith, newly appointed head of the White House initiative My Brother’s Keeper, at the opening plenary of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference.

Smith talked about why we must think about investing in communities in new ways—why we “must move [all support] to organizations with evidence of impact.” As former director of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund, which uses the federal government to mobilize public and private support for community solutions with strong results, Smith knows a thing or two about focusing on outcomes.

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Tips for “Networking” at a Conference

By Jen Bokoff, Grantcraft

Reposted with permission from GrantCraft; the original post appeared on GrantCraft’s blog earlier this year.

I’m asked all the time how I approach networking at conferences. To be completely honest, “networking” can feel like a dirty word to me because it connotes the transactional business card swap where success is defined by the number of cards in your conference tote bag. Instead, I like to label networking done correctly as “connecting,” where success is defined by the quality of interactions and the potential for sincere follow up.

With that disclaimer, here are some pointers I can offer:

  • Do your research beforehand. If attendee lists (either specific names or organizations) are available, make sure you know background for ‘important’ people in the room, and ask colleagues/NetSuite about existing relationships.
  • Don’t spew information. Instead, ask people questions about themselves and their work.
  • Don’t make people feel like you’re trying to sell them something. Instead, listen to what’s on their mind and respond to that – work-related or not.
  • The best conversations are those that aren’t about work at all. Get to know people to really build a relationship. That often means showing a little of your personality. You can maintain privacy, but think about a few topics you could be comfortable talking about outside of work and don’t be afraid to do that.
  • Be careful what you say about other people – you never know who knows who.
  • The best networking often happens during meals and evening activities, so pace your energy levels to make those times count.
  • Never feel stuck or put all of your eggs in one conversation basket; it’s understood that attendees at conferences are there to talk with many people, so it’s always ok to politely excuse yourself. Thank people for their time chatting and end on a good note. And, if you intend to connect again in the future, share that intention; if you don’t, don’t falsely say you’d like to.
  • Write something to jog your memory on the back of people’s business cards as is helpful, and transfer that information into your address book system as a note along with the contact information.
  • Make note of what article or website(s) would be helpful to send to someone in follow up to your conversation, and then follow up! Within a week is usually a good timeline, but up to two is fine.

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You Can Get There From Here – With Multiple Ways to Give

By Cynthia Strauss, Fidelity Charitable®

The following was published earlier this year in Exponent Philanthropy’s Outsized Impact, a first-of-its-kind report on trends shaping philanthropy with few or no staff. 

I’ve always found it apt when philanthropists use the term “journey” to describe their giving. To me, the word encompasses the stops, starts and, most important, the learning that accompanies a philanthropic lifetime—the side trips and experiences along the way that so often have deep and significant meaning for the donor. Hopefully, your own philanthropic journey represents a unique and continually rich exploration.

There are multiple giving tools available 

Fortunately, there are numerous vehicles available to help you reach your charitable destination as easily, effectively, and efficiently as possible. Until quite recently, foundations and charitable trusts were the most widely employed vehicles for individuals or families with several million or more charitable dollars to dedicate. For more and more today, however, donor-advised funds (DAFs) are being added to the mix.

As DAF programs have grown in number, so have the variety and sophistication of their offerings. Many DAF programs have in-house experts to aid giving that requires an advanced level of support—for example, donating complex assets like private or restricted stock, international giving, or impact investing. Donors can also leverage the DAF program’s expertise in supporting donors as they shift to a more specialized charitable focus or adopt an entirely new direction.

No one charitable vehicle is inherently better than another. What I am seeing, though, is more families and individuals proactively using a variety of vehicles to best serve their evolving charitable journey.

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The Power of Networks: More Than a Cliché

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Exponent Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) partnered earlier this year to publish Supporting and Engaging in Network: Partnering for Greater Impact. Based on GEO’s Cracking the Network Code, it explores how funders are working with and through networks to achieve more with their giving—essentially, how funders can leverage the power of networks.

And there it is, a phrase we hear and see so often these days: the power of networks. When will we stop hearing people espouse “the power of the network”? Not likely anytime soon, since networks are indeed powerful, and they aren’t going anywhere. Networks, groups or systems of interconnected things or people, have been around as long as there have been things and people, and they will continue to be around as long as things and people continue to exist.

Why all the buzz now, then, and what’s the “so what” for philanthropy?

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Leveraging a Small Amount of Treasure, Large Amount of Time and Talent

By Jane Leighty Justis, The Leighty Foundation, and Andrea Pactor, Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

How can a small family foundation—with a small amount of treasure and large amounts of time and talent—change the culture of volunteer engagement in its community?

Jane Leighty Justis, board chair of The Leighty Foundation, set out to scale this mountain using a distinct assortment of gear. She experienced a powerful and transformative journey to the summit.

Jane’s experience as a trainer in the field of volunteerism contributed to her vision that high-impact volunteer engagement can sustain organizations, accomplish missions, and strengthen communities. Her passion led to creation of The Pikes Peak Volunteer Engagement Initiative, a multiyear effort to increase the effective use of volunteer resources in the Colorado Springs area.

As a philanthropist, Jane knew that today’s nonprofits and funders must engage communities in new ways to meet growing needs. Her goals for the initiative were to:

  • Strengthen the community’s ability to leverage volunteer resources as part of a critical strategy to meet its needs
  • Convene and build a cohort of organizations and individuals committed to effective volunteer engagement as a necessary element of organizational health and sustainability
  • Create a model to share with other funders

Read about the initiative’s impact

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Young Leaders: Take Charge of Your Professional Development

This guest post is written by Samantha Alarie-Leca, program officer with The West Foundation in Indianapolis, IN, and member of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 class of Next Gen Fellows.

For emerging young leaders at small-staffed foundations, the pathway to professional growth, advancement, and impact may not always be clear. But, with creativity, courage, and intention, we can take charge of our own development.

There is no perfect formula for how to tackle society’s biggest challenges. Nor is there a ubiquitous road map for success as a program officer, executive director, or trustee of a highly effective grantmaking organization. In fact, this ambiguity is often acutely experienced by individuals working alone or with few colleagues, especially early in their careers.

Whereas other fields or large foundations have formalized training opportunities—and even small foundations may have step-by-step credential tracks—the  onus frequently falls on staff to self-identify professional development opportunities while juggling myriad responsibilities.

The good news is that assuming an entrepreneurial approach to learning leads to great results. In fact, the benefits are exponential, creating opportunities to contribute more meaningfully to our organizations, the philanthropy field at large, and our own sense of professional fulfillment.

Not sure where to get started? Below are five ways I personally stretched my professional muscles over the past year to gain greater clarity and confidence in my role as program officer at a small-staffed foundation.

1. Convene a peer learning cohort. Learning from the experiences of your peers is invaluable. Consider inviting philanthropy peers from your community to monthly or quarterly brown-bag lunches to foster a reciprocal exchange of ideas and relationship building. Propose a focused question or article to discuss to catalyze more robust conversations.

2. Find a mentor (or two). Choose one or two skills to hone, then identify several individuals whose acuity in those areas you admire. Reach out to see if they are available to mentor you as you progress toward your goals. Some individuals will be too busy to mentor you regularly, but may be open to sharing a cup of coffee or an informal one-time conversation that can be equally helpful.

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7 Unique and Innovative Funding Initiatives

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy

Innovation is everywhere. Did you hear about DC philanthropists who bought an estate in a well-known DC neighborhood? They converted it into an incubator for entrepreneurs. Who would have thought?

The 2014 National Conference Host Committee gathered last fall in DC, site of this month’s conference, to brainstorm funding innovations in the region. How are funders working together to meet needs and solve problems in new ways? Some suggestions became conference site sessions, where participants will have an opportunity to head into the city to learn about collaboration and change in four DC neighborhoods.

Other examples are coming to the conference in the form of a DC Innovation Fair—a way to showcase seven creative and replicable funding initiatives:

Read more about the seven initiatives

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All In for Impact Investing

This post, originally titled “New Belgium Family Foundation: ‘All In’ for Impact Investing,” first appeared on the blog of First Affirmative Financial Network, a firm that has specialized since 1988 in aligning clients’ investment portfolios with their values. It is reposted here with permission.

By Meaghan Scott, First Affirmative Financial Network

The New Belgium Family Foundation [an Exponent Philanthropy member] was started by the CEO and co-founder of the New Belgium Brewing Company after the company became 100% employee owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2012. The sale to the ESOP is only the most recent example in a long history of practices by New Belgium Brewing that promote environmental stewardship and social responsibility, including being one of the early Certified B Corps. The foundation, which is run by the family independent from the brewery business, seeks to honor that positive momentum. The foundation is working toward becoming 100% mission aligned.

The decision to align the foundation’s investment portfolio with the organization’s mission for positive impact was an easy one. To the New Belgium Family Foundation, investing in any other way would not align with the values and mission of the foundation. Once the decision was made to invest the foundation’s assets in a sustainable, responsible, impactful manner, Executive Director Lucy Cantwell led a search to find an investment firm that could serve the foundation’s needs.

The search for an investment firm was not easy! After eliminating several large banks during an extensive Request for Proposal (RFP) process, Lucy and the board decided on a smaller investment firm that had the flexibility and mission-related investing experience to truly meet their needs. Her advice to other foundations is to take things slowly and spend time deciding who will best fulfill the foundation’s interests. Further, she suggests that you make sure that you know your own goals as well as the person or firm you are hiring to be your investment advisor, because you will need to articulate clearly what you’re looking for, as well as rely on his or her judgment and ability to help teach you when difficult situations arise.

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Success in CEO Transitions

By Anthony Tansimore, Olive Grove Consulting

We are pleased to share this post from our colleagues at Olive Grove, an Exponent Philanthropy Professional Sustaining Partner.

Imagine you are running your first marathon. Coming up on the final mile, your energy is flagging, but you know you can make it. Then, all of a sudden, you see a sign that reads “Finish line 4 miles ahead.” Whether you could physically make it or not is beside the point now. Your mental image of the challenge has been upended, and you feel like 4 miles might as well be 40.

We see this over and over with nonprofit and foundation board members’ expectations of a leadership transition. They are exhausted by the search and hiring process and have no juice left over to provide the comprehensive off-boarding and on-boarding activities that can be the crucial link to smooth succession.

During the summer of 2014, Olive Grove Consulting and Vista Global Coaching & Consulting partnered to conduct a national study on leadership succession and transition planning in the nonprofit sector. Sixteen in-depth interviews and 204 survey responses confirmed the anecdotal evidence that transition activities after the hire of the new CEO get short shrift and that this is an area where nonprofits and foundations need considerable support if they are to have successful leadership transitions.

Some of the challenges highlighted in the study included:

  • Confusion about and tension around the role, in any, that the departing CEOs would have going forward.
  • Lost organizational momentum as the new CEO struggles to get up to speed.
  • Board burnout when they feel like yet another task has been dropped on their plate after exhausting search processes.
  • Lost institutional knowledge and external relationships when there is not a process to transfer these components.
  • Poor morale and distrust of new leadership if the leader appears to be uninformed about key aspects of the organization.

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