Articulating Our Foundation’s DNA

dna-document_Page_1By Janis ReischmannHau`oli Mau Loa Foundation

We all know the important role the board plays in hiring and reviewing the chief staff person in a nonprofit organization, but I’ve been thinking recently about a second important role our board is playing that is critical to our evolution as a foundation. That role is defining, articulating, and transmitting the values of the foundation as well as helping us determine how those values are practiced across the organization. How did our board do this, and why has it been so important?

When I joined Hau`oli Mau Loa Foundation as the first staff person in 2008, the two founding board members who hired me were the only people affiliated with the foundation who had known its benefactor. When hiring me, they realized that they wanted to translate their knowledge of the benefactor’s values and her aspirations for the foundation, which had not been well-documented, to those who would be working at the foundation and responsible for carrying out its mission. They also had a sense of wanting to ensure, as the board grew and as they would eventually transition off the board, that the next generation of board members were firmly grounded in what our foundation’s benefactor valued and how she expressed those values.

As a result, the board, together with staff, developed a set of organizational values. Those values served us well for the first several years, and the communication of those values to staff were often accompanied by stories of the benefactor and how she practiced one value or another.

When we got ready to add a new board member, someone who would be joining the board with no knowledge of our benefactor, the founding board members decided we needed to develop a short document that could be given to new board members as well as new staff that summarized our benefactor’s values and how the expression of those values have helped to formulate how we behave. We now think of what’s in that document as “our DNA.”

Continue reading

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Its Message to Philanthropists

By Floyd Keene, The Triple EEE Foundation

Right now, the world is discussing the proposed Iran nuclear agreement. The Obama administration sees a massive foreign policy achievement; certain American politicians and other world leaders less so. Many U.S. philanthropic and religious organizations have taken a “wait and see” approach, wanting time to study and analyze before taking a stance pro or con.

Frankly, understanding the details of the agreement is above my pay grade. Thus, I am waiting for organizations I trust to reach their conclusions. Yet, whatever the fine print, the agreement screams out with various messages for the philanthropic community. These messages are important and urgent, no matter what happens to the deal itself.

What truly stands to threaten our way of life?

I grew up in the late 1950s and 1960s. Once a month at school we had an “air raid” drill, with all students marched into the basement and taught the “protection position” to protect our heads from the effects of an air attack. In those Cold War days, the fear of nuclear attack from the “evil” Communists was real. Fortunately, decades later, a nuclear attack on the United States has never happened, even though many regimes of questionable stability possess that power, including Russia, Pakistan, and perhaps even North Korea.

Continue reading

Want to Create a Movement? Create a Community.

By Cheryl Green Rosario, The ZAC Foundation

This post originally appeared on New York PhilanthroPost, the blog of regional association Philanthropy New York. We are pleased to feature its message and the story of The ZAC Foundation, an Exponent Philanthropy member committed to preparing children and families for a lifetime of water safety.

Creating a movement is more than just the message or simply making a grant—it is also who is sharing your message that counts. Let’s look at how the drowning prevention community is using this model.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are approximately 3,800 drowning deaths that occur annually. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under age 5 and second leading for children under 14. To curb drowning and near drowning incidents, there is significant work happening all across this country, especially in high drowning states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas. In these states, as well as others, community organizations have stepped in to bring awareness through water safety campaigns and various drowning prevention activities that have saved lives and made a significant impact locally.

Working in leadership for many foundations and nonprofits over my decades-long career, I’ve seen firsthand the makings of great community engagement and how that engagement can translate into positive results for any awareness and education campaign.

Continue reading

8 (More) Organizations Developing Social-Minded Leaders

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

It’s all about the people.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we believe your people—staff and trustees—are among your philanthropy’s greatest assets. Last summer, I wrote about 8 networks and programs investing in leadership development, particularly for young, social-minded professionals and philanthropists. This summer, I’m back with eight more.

With time, I’ve come to realize the importance of investing in leaders at all levels. After all, who is the driving force behind change? The people. It’s not a surprise that several funders within the ranks of Exponent Philanthropy’s membership also believe in this notion and fund accordingly: Siragusa Foundation, The Miles Foundation, the Robertson Foundation for Government, the Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, the Community Memorial Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to name a few.[i]

Yet, argues Rusty Stahl of Talent Philanthropy Project, there’s an egregious deficit of investment in leaders in the social sector. And Rusty’s not alone. As NCRP reported earlier this year, from 2003–2012, just 0.8 percent of total grants and 0.9 percent of total dollars granted from the largest 1,000 foundations went to nonprofit leadership development.

What’s more, there’s a stark divide in leadership development investment between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors: “for-profit businesses routinely invest $129 per employee for leadership development every year, while the civic sector invests only $29 per employee.” Fortunately, this is something we can change with time, and many throughout the field are already hard at work highlighting the value of investing in people.

On to the list: Eight more organizations working hard to develop social sector leaders. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list; see the “Leadership” section of American Express’s 2014 grant list for even more.

Continue reading

The Pulse: Social Progress Index, Summer Hunger

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   

Summer Hunger Casts Shadow on American Children

Thought leader Bill Shore calls attention to the millions of children eligible for the federal summer meals program but who do not participate because of a lack of transportation and lack of awareness among families.Across America, 21 million children get free or reduced-price school lunch every day. But just over 3 million of those kids receive free meals over the summer.”

“Missed meals can have a harmful effect on kids’ education: a study from the National Summer Learning Association shows that low-income children—the same group that depends on school meals for their basic nutrition—lose more than two months of reading achievement over the summer.” Shore calls on foundations and nonprofits to use their risk capital—their freedom to invest in longer term innovation—to create more flexible ways for states to feed kids in the summertime. 

Wave of Retiring Nonprofit Leaders Creates Challenges, Invites Change

The retirement of thousands of veteran nonprofit executives from the baby boom generation is challenging nonprofits around the country. In one recent study,Nearly a third of New England nonprofit leaders surveyed say they plan to leave their jobs in the next two years, and almost two-thirds anticipate leaving within five years. Yet 60 percent of their organizations do not have a succession plan.” 

Continue reading

‘Opting out’ is OK in this funder-nonprofit dynamic

By , The Patterson Foundation 

Originally appeared in a July 6, 2015 post to The Patterson Foundation’s blog

opt-outYou have a good idea for your organization. You have the opportunity to receive free consulting to help implement that idea. However, you aren’t sure your organization has the capacity to execute on that idea. What do you do? Do you take the valuable, free consulting or not?

Most would view this scenario from the fund recipient’s perspective. In other words, we believe it should be the recipient’s decision whether or not to take the help. We would hope that they would say, “No,” unless they were sure they had the ability to execute. This is logical.

But, alas, decisions involving money aren’t always logical. In the nonprofit space, if a funder is willing to make an investment, the nonprofit organization would be hard-pressed to say, “No.” Financial resources are limited, so when the opportunity to receive something of considerable value presents itself, the nonprofit leader is almost required to accept it. Not doing so might prevent future opportunities. The money creates the imbalance in power between the funder and fundee involved, and this often forces the fundee to accept money/resources it can’t optimally deploy.

The Patterson Foundation’s Theory About This Dynamic

To avoid this, we believe it is the funder’s responsibility to rebalance this dynamic so that the best decision can be made – even if it means the nonprofit does not accept the money/resources at this time. The Patterson Foundation (TPF) recently tested this theory with our latest initiative: Margin & Mission Ignition.TPF engaged No Margin, No Mission to lead nonprofit organizations through three educational labs, 14 weeks of business planning coaching, and 14 weeks of implementation — all followed by a year of support for developing an earned-income revenue stream.

Continue reading

Human Rights and Our Family Foundation

Michael Hirschhorn, Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation

This post is the first in a series with colleagues at the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG), a global network of donors and grantmakers committed to advancing human rights around the world. The series will explore the ins and outs of supporting human rights as a funder with few or no staff.

In our family foundation, advancing human rights has become an increasingly central strategy, both for our grantmaking abroad and in the United States. What drives our growing interest in human rights? A keen awareness that we’d like to try to make a bigger difference on the issues we care about most. We started to ask ourselves questions such as: While we fund nonprofits in Baltimore City to expand training for public school teachers and principals, why isn’t the Baltimore City Public School System adequately funded to meet its own system-wide training needs?

I cha‎ir the board of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, founded by my maternal grandparents more than 50 years ago in Baltimore, MD. All trustees are my family members—my sister, aunt and uncle, my cousin; you get the picture!—and we are assisted by three highly capable part-time professionals.

A bit of proud family history: Following the horrors and genocide of the WWII era, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed my grandfather, Jacob Blaustein, to serve as part of a small delegation charged with ensuring that human rights were deeply embedded in the establishment of the United Nations (UN). Following an arduous, highly charged international process, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was ultimately adopted by the UN in December 1948. Fast forward to more recent times: Despite my family’s deep-rooted history in human rights, it is only over the past 15 years or so that our family foundation has begun to explicitly articulate a “human rights approach” toward our grantmaking. And this evolution has been a twisty road, hardly without its misunderstandings and bumps in the family road!

Continue reading

Thoughtful Blueprints, Well-Built Houses 

By Scott Thomas, Arbor Brothers

A grantmaker’s guide to evaluating a nonprofit’s theory of change

“If we just start nailing that lumber together, we’ll end up with your dream house.”
—No architect, ever

Nonprofit mission statements evoke powerful visions of social change. To translate these lofty rallying cries into action, many thoughtful organizations have developed a detailed blueprint illustrating the links between their inputs, activities, and desired impacts.

Some refer to this blueprint as a logic model; we at Arbor Brothers employ another common term: theory of change. Whether distilled into a stand-alone document, narrated in a grant application, or floating around in the executive director’s head, our experience suggests the clarity and logic of this blueprint are key indicators of an organization’s ability to generate meaningful social outcomes.

As grantmakers, we see it as our responsibility to evaluate the strength of every potential grantee’s theory of change and invest accordingly. We don’t require this in a formalized document before we make a grant, but we do try to understand an ED’s thinking regarding the elements that compose it. This brief guide outlines our approach to doing so. (This is written with direct service organizations in mind, but the methodology can be adapted for many different nonprofit types.)

Continue reading

One step forward, two steps back: A “toxic tour” of South Durban

SDCEA staff Bongani Mthembu shows the Durban port landscape, filled with refineries, dumping sites, and other industrial plants.

SDCEA staff Bongani Mthembu shows the Durban port landscape, filled with refineries, dumping sites, and other industrial plants.

A funder shares her site visit experience demonstrating the reality of environmental racism

Sasha Rabsey, vice chair of IDEX’s board of directors, wrote this piece while visiting IDEX’s long-term grantee, SDCEA, in South Africa. IDEX (International Development Exchange), an Exponent Philanthropy member, invests in grassroots leaders in the Global South.

My eyes are burning. My nose is running. My throat is dry and the “toxic tour” of South Durban has not even begun.

After only 30 minutes in this community I can only imagine what it is like to spend one’s life here; a life shortened by cancer, asthma, skin diseases, and a variety of undiagnosed ailments. The heavy pollution and toxins are due to unregulated emissions and leaks from two oil refineries, a paper mill, a waste plant, and a variety of other industries. Then there is the serious environmental degradation from Durban’s world-class port.

It is not lost on me that everyone in this community is either black or mixed race; this is the face of environmental racism.

We start our “toxic tour” in the low brick offices of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), at the back end of a nursing home. We are so fortunate to have the founder of SDCEA, Desmond D’Sa, a highly respected and admired community activist, as our tour guide. D’Sa is the recipient of a 2014 Goldman Award for environmental activism.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Career Paths, Resources, and Roadblocks in Philanthropy

Sharmila Rao ThakkarWe are pleased to share excerpts from EPIP-Chicago‘s recent interview with Sharmila Rao Thakkar, executive director of The Siragusa Foundation and an Exponent Philanthropy member. See part 1 and part 2 of the full interview on EPIP’s blog.

What comes to mind when you think about leadership in philanthropy?

Learning. I find that, to be a leader in this sector, one must be ready and willing to keep on learning, to realize that we are not the experts. We wouldn’t be effective in our roles if we thought we had all the answers. This work is about partnership and collaboration, not only in our offices, but with our colleagues, with researchers and teachers, and, perhaps most important, with those on the ground doing the work, our grantees, our communities’ leaders. I also think it’s important to realize that we can’t always get it right—that mistakes, failures as they like to say, happen. But I see it all as learning, part of the learning process to ultimately get to “better.” With this comes the absolute necessity in understanding the past, the history; it’s really quite difficult to move forward without knowing from where we’ve come and been.

Trust and patience. “Change moves at the speed of trust.” You must understand before you can be understood; you must know before you seek to transform. Relationship building is key. I’m reminded of the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Generosity and flexibility. Whereas planning and preparation are critical, things don’t always go as planned. We’ve got to be flexible. We’re in the business of caring, and that generosity must extend over to how we treat others personally and professionally. How we act, what we say, what we don’t do or say, carry a message. Whether we like it or plan on it, philanthropy carries such a responsibility and privilege.

Empathy. We cannot underestimate the power and importance of empathy in this work—the emotion and meaning, the heart, the values. We often bring our whole selves to our work in philanthropy, and it’s important to gut check that against what we’re doing. At the end of the day, philanthropy is about this love of humanity and human connection, and we must maintain and keep strong that bond to one another and continually ensure we are aligning with our core values.

Continue reading