Growing Community Solutions That Work: A New Way for Government

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Last month, the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) announced $33.7 million in grant investments to seven organizations that address youth development, economic opportunity, and healthy futures through innovative, evidence-based approaches.

What Is SIF? SIF is a White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that aims to demonstrate a “new way that government programs can operate.”

SIF cornerstones include:

  • Bringing together public and private resources
  • Focusing on solutions
  • Requiring evidence of results
  • Sharing successful ideas with more people

SIF Director Michael Smith will keynote Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference

“Five years ago,” said SIF Director Michael Smith in a press release announcing SIF’s recent grantees, “the Social Innovation Fund was created to find solutions that work, and make them work for more people – signaling a shift in the way the government and philanthropy invest in community solutions. Five years later, we’ve become a national solutions accelerator and amplifier, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, along with our private sector partners to prove, improve and scale solutions that work.”

Who did SIF support in 2014? Two of its seven grantees, The Boston Foundation and Silicon Valley Foundation, are community foundations – a first for SIF. And all seven grantees will be using a collective impact model.

See the full list of grantees

Continue reading

Voices of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Join me to explore the values and visions of emerging leaders of a social-minded generation. Below is an excerpt of my recent conversation with Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer at Friends of Ebonie, freelance writer, and professional coach.                                                      

Ebonie Johnson CooperWhat are you currently working on?

I’m working on an online education and training initiative called the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute. My work with the Changing the Face of Philanthropy Summit helped me understand how vital education and training is for young professionals. The recent events in Ferguson, MO helped me realize how quickly millennials can galvanize around a cause yet struggle to define desired outcomes or next steps. Education and training around civic leadership, social justice, and advocacy is clearly needed, particularly for young, black millennials. This program is designed to do just that. While the target audience is young, black millennials, these programs are open to anyone.

I’m also starting to coach young philanthropists. I believe having a guide with expertise in millennials’ unique style of giving is really valuable. I receive so many emails from people interested in fundraising projects or volunteering, but they’re not sure how or where to begin. Through coaching, I’ll assist individuals in mapping out an approach based on their values, passions, and interests.

What are you most passionate about?

I’m passionate about how my generation applies our potential. One of the challenges we often run into is getting to action. For example, let’s think about the situation in Ferguson. Plenty of people showed up to show their support. People were able to connect with one another easily through social media. But then what? What were the desired outcomes from that gathering? And who was the point of contact or group of people that they should engage in order to achieve those outcomes? I believe we’ll accomplish some exciting things once we figure out exactly how to overcome obstacles like this. 

What do you believe you and your generation bring to the table?

Our passion, our initiative to get things done, and a fresh perspective to a lot of issues. We approach things so much differently than anyone else. We bring passion to the table, and that’s what makes the difference in a board room. We’re not afraid to express ourselves. If there is a problem or opportunity, we’ll work hard to figure out at a solution.

Continue reading

Sharing the Baton: One Foundation’s Perspective on Family Leadership Transitions

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

In an interview with Andrea Pactor of Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Exponent Philanthropy member Jane Leighty Justis, board chair of The Leighty Foundation, describes steps she and the foundation leadership are taking to educate and engage the foundation’s next generations.

The Leighty Foundation's three generations

The Leighty Foundation’s three generations

When Ike Leighty was in his 60s, he and a partner began a small manufacturing business. Each year the company became more profitable. Ike realized, as he says, he “had been given the stewardship of more steak than he could eat,” and decided with his accountant to create a family foundation. A widower, Ike asked his two children, Bill and Jane, to join him as foundation directors. They joined and became Generation 2, or G2.

In the early years, the family treated the foundation as a “giant checkbook” according to Jane, and awarded grants and contributions without clear direction. Jane’s background in nonprofit management gave her a desire to experiment with becoming more strategic. She became executive director in 1990 as a logical and natural next step in the foundation’s evolution, and her experience with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in the 1990s reinforced her sense that women often have unique perspectives and contributions to make as leaders in this field.

For 20 years, Ike and his two children and their spouses governed the foundation guided by the mission: “to carry on the Leighty family legacy of service and stewardship by leveraging our time and talents, as well as our financial resources, primarily in the areas of earth protection, education, and the promotion of volunteer engagement and philanthropy.”

The third generation grows up

When Ike’s four grandchildren (G3) were between 10 and 14 years old, he invited them to help with the foundation’s stewardship. Stewardship is not a word Ike uses lightly; stewardship and service are two of his core values. He clarified that this was an invitation, not an expectation. Foundation participation was not a prerequisite for being a “family member in good standing.”

For G3 members who requested it, the board allotted them up to $250 a year to begin their involvement with the foundation. Through their teen years, their allotment increased, and each one took advantage of it sporadically.

As the foundation grew and evolved, it enlisted the help of consultants. One met with the grandchildren to discuss the elements they thought might be important in their education about philanthropy, and what criteria they thought should be met for consideration for membership on the board. When G3 members were in their 20s, they were invited to become advisors to the board and to attend board meetings.

Continue reading

Using Evaluation to Become an Effective Learning Organization

We are pleased to share this content co-created with our colleagues at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), a diverse community of 500 grantmakers working to reshape the way philanthropy operates. 

Philanthropists have an obligation to learn. The best way to make smarter philanthropic investments over time—and get better results from those investments—is to generate good information about what’s working, what’s not working, and why. And evaluation is key in this process.

Evaluation can be a daunting topic for any grantmaker. Not only can it conjure up memories of being graded or scored, it can remind some grantmakers of huge expenditures that resulted in nothing more than a hefty door stopper. But just because evaluation has been overwhelming or unproductive in the past doesn’t mean it has to be going forward.

Reconsidering evaluation
More and more grantmakers are looking at evaluation in a new light. They are redefining its role in philanthropy in the five ways that follow.

1. It’s about improvement, not just proof. Evaluation is not solely about tracking the results of past investments. It is also about learning how to do a better job of achieving your goals—and then doing so. Grantmakers are making the connection between evaluation and improvement in a variety of ways. Some are using evaluation and learning as the basis for wholesale changes in grantmaking strategy. Others are investing in real time monitoring of funded programs to allow for adjustments and course corrections along the way.

2. It’s about contribution, not attribution. Evaluation has often been viewed as a way to render definitive judgments about success and failure. In many instances, however, grantmakers and their grantees aren’t necessarily able to make these sorts of judgments, for any of the following reasons:

  • One grantmaker is rarely the sole source of funding for an organization or initiative.
  • Many grants are simply too small to allow grantmakers to attribute results directly to their investments.
  • Cause-and-effect evaluations are complicated by the fact that grantmakers often focus their grantmaking on complex problems that do not lend themselves to easy answers.

In the previous cases, evaluation becomes a way to learn about the range of factors that affect progress on an issue, rather than directly attributing outcomes to specific grants.

3. It’s about learning with others, not alone. Evaluation is not solely about measuring (and improving) a funder’s results. It is also about improving the work of everyone involved in helping to achieve shared goals for social change. Funders are working alongside grantees to set evaluation measures that will be useful to both parties as funders seek to learn from their ongoing work. Funders are also providing grantees with better and more tailored support to do evaluation well. By embracing participatory evaluation and building learning communities that involve foundations, grantees, and community members, grantmakers help ensure that evaluation meets the needs of all stakeholders.

Continue reading

Opening the Way to Transatlantic Dialogue About Education

By Javier López Martínez, Barrie Foundation, Spain

Earlier this year, as part of a series of meetings in NY and Washington, DC organized by the U.S. State Department, a delegation of Spanish foundations met with our staff at Exponent Philanthropy. We are pleased to share this post from our new friends at Barrie Foundation in Galicia, Spain, an exemplar of leadership and leverage.

More than two years ago, one of the most innovative teachers in Spain, Jesús Garrido, set out his vision of how teaching could be improved.

“Javier,” he said, “we need to learn from excellent teachers.” Jesús is a sprightly 80-year-old teacher who has directed schools, trained some of the best teachers in Spain, and driven major innovation projects in education, such as bringing newspapers into schools. And with all his experience and wisdom he says “the problem is we don’t know what an excellent teacher does in the classroom. It’s as if we are watching a Lakers game on TV and the producer decides to point the camera elsewhere just when Kobe Bryant is about to shoot.”

More recently, Joseph Renzulli , director of the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talented Development at Connecticut University, who we invited in June to talk to Spanish teachers about the importance of identifying and advancing talent in the classroom, insisted that the key lies in developing teacher’s skills so they become facilitators of learning.

In reality Jesús and Joseph’s proposal is simple: We train future teachers using the professional insight of excellent teachers. We reward good teachers and turn them into role models, instructors for newcomers. And to do this we have to find out what a great teacher does in the classroom, what makes his or her teaching style different. We all remember a teacher who inspired us. Maybe we do not remember why, but we do know that he or she was in some way special. And if we ask some of those teachers most widely appreciated and respected by pupils and colleagues alike what their secret is, it is more than likely that they will humbly reply “it’s nothing special”! Well that “nothing special” is exactly where we will find the answer to our questions, and it is precisely what we at the Barrie Foundation are looking for.

How do we go about this? Through our PROFEX21 project, we have spent time observing and recording some of our best teachers “on the job.” We have made their classrooms transparent and converted their blackboards into windows wide open for the world to see. We want it to have a ripple effect so it extends from school to school and knows no boundaries.

Continue reading

Slam Poets, Jazz Musicians, and a Dozen Other D.C. Artists We Want You to Know

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy

When we plan conferences around the country, like the 2014 National Conference next month in Washington, DC, we take great pride in showcasing our host city and its local arts scene. See below for a sense of what we have in store for National Conference attendees, and be sure to secure your conference spot before we sell out

Poetry, movement, music and dance

At the National Conference you’ll get the chance

To see, hear, feel, and experience the arts

When local performers are on stage from the start

Of the conference until the tail end.

Spin, tap, pluck, speak, jump, bend


You’ll find inspiration, your spirits will soar,

For isn’t that the heart, the essence, the core

Of the arts?

For personal expression, for learning, for fun

In private, in public, for you, for everyone

For those who are young and those young at heart

To paint with colors, notes, words, motion

Show the spirit’s true emotion

Continue reading

Have You Heard? 183 Foundations Have Joined Philanthropy’s Promise

By Christine Reeves, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Philanthropy’s Promise, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, celebrates many of the country’s most innovative and influential grantmaking institutions. So far 183 foundations and counting have joined, including nine Exponent Philanthropy members. Each foundation that joins the initiative is committed to providing:

(1) at least half its grant dollars for the intended benefit of underserved or marginalized communities, broadly defined (e.g., people with HIV/AIDS, women and girls, racial and ethnic minorities, the homeless)

(2) at least one-quarter of its grant dollars for systemic change efforts, broadly defined (e.g., advocacy, community organizing, civic engagement, policy, voter registration)

These are smart strategies that help many grantmakers leverage limited dollars to achieve better results.

All the Philanthropy Promise foundations also write one-page statements, describing their respective work and commitment in their own words.

Continue reading

Eyeing Trends in Grantmaking: Youth Engagement

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

One of the most satisfying and exciting opportunities we have at Foundant Technologies is to spot and highlight growing trends.

One of the trends we see in our work with over 600 grantmakers is the involvement of youth (ages 8+) during the grantmaking process. These young people represent the future of grantmaking, and their generation’s view of philanthropy is sure to influence the entire charitable community.

We think it’s important not only to pay attention to this trend of youth grantmaking, but also to invest in the development of these young philanthropists.  As a result, for the past several years, Foundant has sponsored efforts to engage next gen members in philanthropy. We are proud to have been part of this exciting evolution in the field.

Consider what involving youth could mean for your giving. Think about how you might benefit from a different perspective when evaluating your processes or reconsidering your current funding focus. A young voice can spotlight old habits by asking questions or making suggestions. Youth will also provide insight into how the younger generation views common problems. For example, who better than young people who spend their days immersed in education to provide a unique and grounded perspective to grantmakers in education? Finally, the energy and enthusiasm youth bring to this work are contagious. They put in tremendous effort and thought even for grants many consider small; to them, $1,000 is indeed life changing.

More often than not, youth approach philanthropy differently than adults. When you involve them, you can expect a more hands-on approach. The younger generation expects a relationship with their causes. This relationship, most likely, is as simple as following them via social media, but they want to hear the stories of the people they are helping. Most youth programs we have seen include some type of volunteerism as well.

Continue reading

Tackling More Than You Think You Can

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan in Detroit, is the youngest recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award from the JFK Library Foundation and Harvard University. She received an IDEA Gold Award from the Industrial Design Society of America and is one of Crain’s 20 in Their 20s. CNN named Scott one of its 10 Visionary Women for 2014.

She’ll share her story at the closing plenary of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference.

Scott built The Empowerment Plan around a single idea: to design a coat specifically for the homeless that transforms into a sleeping bag and is given out across the United States to those living on the streets. That idea has now transformed into a system of empowerment in which homeless women are paid to learn how to produce coats for people living on the streets, giving them an opportunity to earn money, find a place to live, and gain back their independence.

About more than just a product, The Empowerment Plan breaks the cycle of poverty and invests in those that need it the most so they can create the life they want for themselves and their families.

Continue reading

Voices of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Join me to explore the values and visions of emerging leaders of a social-minded generation. Below is an excerpt of my recent conversation with Alexandra Toma, executive director of the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG), a network of philanthropists and funders investing in conflict and national security issues; and Sally Smith, managing director of The Nexus Fund, which works to build and strengthen the global community to end mass atrocities. Alex and Sally are both participants in Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 Next Gen Fellows Program.

Why do you think there are so few funders supporting peace and security?

Alex Toma

Alex Toma, executive director of Peace and Security Funders Group

Alex: This is something PSFG is working on. One challenge is the way we talk about these issues. That genocide persists around the world is an uncomfortable and overwhelming idea for most people. We need to put our heads together and think about how we can make peace and security issues relatable to more people.

Sally: I see two issues here. First, people don’t like to hear depressing stories. We work on depressing matters, but I think there’s a way to tell more positive stories about how people are solving these problems. It’s something Alex and I discuss frequently. Second, people don’t understand that they can really make a difference. Mass atrocities and genocides can be prevented in many cases. It takes a lot of effort on multiple levels, but it can be done. We can make a big difference if we step up and work together. If people knew they could truly make a difference on something that seems so insurmountable, I have faith they would want to be a part of that.

What trends in philanthropy do you see that excite you?

Sally Smith

Sally Smith, managing director of The Nexus Fund

Sally: Innovation and technology. Sure, they’re buzz words, but new tools are being developed at a rapid pace, and it is an exciting time to find new ways to be more effective using these tools. Edutainment (education meets entertainment) is another. For example, in Rwanda there’s been an ongoing soap opera for 10 years. Its underlying message is that you shouldn’t hate others just because they are different from you, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with the message; it’s presented subtly in the form of a story. I’m also excited by how social media is changing the way we connect and share information. It’s helped break down a lot of silos in my field.

Alex: I’m really excited that people are starting to see the nexus between issues. For example, take climate change. Many people are now realizing that climate change leads to land grabs, which triggers conflict, oftentimes with associated atrocities and human rights abuses, potentially leading to destabilization of a region. Follow this path, and it leads you to power vacuums, increase in militancy, and so on. It’s all connected. It’s exciting to see those bridges being made when even 10 years ago there were little to none in existence. And it’s exciting to see funder affinity groups using those connections to do something different and do it together.

What resources, networks, and organizations should philanthropists know about?

Sally: Definitely the Nexus Global Youth Summit. There is a beauty in the passion, the energy, and innovation that young donors bring to the table. It’s a great place for young philanthropists to connect with other change makers, become inspired, and combat the isolation that can come with being separated from your peers geographically.

Continue reading