Ways to Build a Culturally Competent Board

By Howie Schaffer, Bonanza Communications

Can greater cultural competency help funders better align their resources with needs? Despite notable accomplishments and donors who care a great deal about serving historically underserved populations, philanthropy continues to struggle to achieve social change for the communities and populations that need it most. 

Even the most thoughtful and productive philanthropists—including those who aim to serve, and do serve, highly diverse constituencies—may innocently overlook one component when assembling their boards or advisors: cultural competency, the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Donors may inadvertently apply their own cultural lens in defining the needs of communities and populations, and in researching and offering solutions to these needs,” according to D5, a 5-year coalition to increase philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, “or they may assume that there are no real differences across communities.”

Set the Stage

Board members are typically chosen for their commitment to the foundation’s mission, level of involvement in the community, field knowledge, proficiency in financial management, legal expertise, or other specialized skills.

“When foundations achieve more diverse and inclusive boards,” says D5 Director Kelly Brown, “that factor can go a very long way toward engendering greater cultural competency throughout the organization, no matter the size.”

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Make Way for Mentoring

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Who do you turn to for advice omentoringn becoming a great trustee or an effective donor, or overcoming on-the-job challenges?

As part of our Next Gen Fellows Program, a training program for emerging philanthropic leaders, we launched a mentoring program to pair fellows with seasoned practitioners.

It taught us just how valuable mentoring can be for those engaged in philanthropy—new or seasoned—and reminded us how often this tool is overlooked in our field. Mentoring can go a long way toward developing inspiring social sector leaders, and it also benefits the seasoned mentors who serve as guide, coach, counselor, or friend. 

Make It Happen

For many, the trickiest part of mentoring is taking action to engage a mentor or mentee.

For mentees, the advised:

  • Do your homework. What do you want to achieve through mentoring? What might that relationship look like?
  • Identify potential mentors. Create a list of individuals whose traits, skills, or positions you admire. If you don’t have a direct connection, find a way to be introduced. Professional associations or universities are another way to get involved in mentoring. Many have formalized programs that match mentors and mentees.
  • Make the ask. Reach out to one or two possible mentors and ask for an exploratory conversation (e.g., about his or her professional, philanthropic, or personal goals). In this first conversation, you’re simply looking to assess fit. Be clear about what you’re hoping to discuss, and keep in mind that you don’t have to use the word “mentor” or “mentoring” in your communications. Look for a sincere connection; there is no reason to force a relationship.
  • Take the lead. More often than not, the mentee drives successful mentoring. Demonstrate your commitment to growth by taking responsibility for building the relationship with your chosen mentor.
  • Share your goals. Set a timeline and ask your mentor to hold you to it.

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Living in Truth

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to remember that truth can be found not only in grant evaluations and reports, not only in surveys and community assessments, or in the vast sets of data available to us as philanthropists.

Dr. King reminds us that truth can be found in our hearts.

Extraordinary people of conscience and commitment show us that essential truths exist, and that we can discern these truths through love and the sense of justice that resides deep within us. Dr. King wrote, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

These moral leaders risk their personal safety, position, and life to uphold freedom, justice, and human rights—asserting that denial of these is wrong—in absolute terms. Their clear teachings and example are, I believe, even more essential and urgent in America now, when it is more and more difficult to believe in anything.

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New Regulations Spotlight Nonprofit Overhead

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

It’s January in Washington, DC, and there is no shortage of pundits, politicians, and pollsters with wisdom as to what the 114th Congress and President Obama will do, or try to do, in the coming year. As philanthropists faced with funding opportunities today, we are likely better served by looking back and taking notice of a real change in regulations that took effect last month. The change could – and should – have a significant impact on all of us who make grants.

The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued new regulations that rewrite the book on federal grantmaking in ways that will transform the relationship between nonprofits and governments at all levels – federal, state, and local.

The new rules mandate that nonprofits hired by government to provide services must be paid for the indirect costs they incur in doing so. In simple terms, OMB is declaring that nonprofits have overhead and administrative costs that should be paid. Kudos to OMB for recognizing the need to cover these costs that many of us as funders are called upon to help cover, effectively subsidizing what governments have, until now, refused to pay.

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10 Tips to Boost Your Facilitation Skills

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

Simply put, skillful facilitation can make your meetings more efficient, engaging, and enjoyable for all involved. Luckily, good facilitators are made, not born.

Let’s consider a meeting to be any time two or more people come together to share information, brainstorm ideas, or make a decision. As funders, you may participate in board meetings and site visits, committee meetings and funder collaboratives, grantee convenings and focus groups, staff meetings, and more.

At Exponent Philanthropy’s recent National Conference, GrantCraft’s Jen Bokoff and I offered the following facilitation tips during a lively, interactive session.

Plan, plan, plan. Most facilitation success simply comes down to good planning. If we truly take time to plan well, from considering logistics to crafting smart agendas to prepping participants in advance, we’ve won half the battle. A good rule of thumb is to commit twice as much time to planning the meeting than the meeting actually takes. Download the complimentary Meeting Facilitation Design Worksheet for help to prepare for an upcoming meeting.

Engage the right stakeholders. As you think about what you want to accomplish at a meeting, consider who needs to be at the table—and who does not. If you find that parts of your meeting require a larger or smaller group, don’t hesitate to plan accordingly.

Have a strong agenda. A thoughtful agenda is the road map for a successful meeting. Start by identifying your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Then, design your activities and discussions to serve those goals. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in the time available and prioritize those topics that will benefit most from group discussion. Agendas are not, however, set in stone. Deviating from an agenda can sometimes be the most sound course of action.

Be clear about the meeting type. Meetings take all shapes and sizes: informational meetings, brainstorming meetings, input-gathering meetings, decision-making meetings, multiday retreats, and more. As you plan—and communicate with your stakeholders—be clear about what type of meeting you are facilitating.

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Change: The Invisible Thread in Our Work

By Gali Cooks, Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance 

Change is life’s only constant. As philanthropists, we will either be undergoing change or driving it throughout our time involved in giving. Whether you love it or hate it, are in a position to react to it or create it, it is critical to our success as change agents to understand how we experience change and what we can do to manage it.

What are some changes you might face—or drive—as givers?

  • Changing economic times
  • Changing political climates, whether federal, state, or local
  • Local changes (e.g., closing of a key social services agency, hiring of new school superintendent)
  • Organizational changes (e.g., new trustees or board chair, hiring a first or new staff person, changing philanthropic strategy, influx of assets)

How People Experience Change

Many theories explain how individuals come to accept change. One, the Change Curve, is particularly accessible. Originally developed in the 1960s by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, it is based on a model of the grieving process—a model Kübler-Ross proposed could be applied to any life-changing event.

Over the years, the Change Curve has become a core concept in change management, and it is often applied in business and other organizational settings. The curve and its associated emotions can be used to predict how people presumably will react to the announcement and subsequent implementation of a significant change. Individuals will progress through the stages differently, and not every individual will experience every stage.

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

  • What happens? Shock is usually the initial reaction to change, often due to fear, surprise, or lack of information. Although typically short-lived, it can result in negative fallout (e.g., uncertainty, confusion, a scramble to hold on to resources). After the initial shock passes, denial is common. People may try to convince themselves that the change won’t actually happen, or, if it does, that it won’t affect them. Some may romanticize the past and question the need for change.
  • What helps? Reiterate what the change is, why it is necessary, and the effects it may have. Provide as much reassurance as possible to support individuals struggling with this stage.

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Four Things to Know About a Recent White House Convening on Community Foundation Giving

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

This past #GivingTuesday (December 2), CEO Henry Berman and I represented Exponent Philanthropy at a daylong White House event Community Foundations: Vital Leadership for America’s Future. In the 100th year of the existence of community foundations, it may have marked the start of a new era.

Here are four takeaways from the event:

  1. Setting the tone for the next century of community foundation giving, Jonathan Greenblatt, special assistant to the president and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, extended an olive branch to the tight-knit family of community foundations. He also issued an informal mandate to community foundation leaders—ideas I believe hold true for any philanthropist committed to our collective future:
  • Embrace your role as a leader at all levels: local, state, and national.
  • Lean into advocacy; flex your muscles and let your representatives know what matters to you and your community.
  • Take risks—you have the freedom to do so.
  • Conduct R&D for social services; let the public sector follow in your wake.
  • Help our citizens and representatives better understand philanthropy.
  1. The event centered on relationship-building. Acknowledging missed opportunities come and gone, the White House warmly welcomed nearly 100 community foundation leaders, leaders of regional associations of grantmakers, and philanthropy groups including GuideStar, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, and Exponent Philanthropy, among others.

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The Pulse: Unexpected Givers, 2014’s Big Ideas

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

Wealthy Donors Seek Long-Term Solutions to Poverty, Hardship

The desire by donors to address the root causes of poverty and economic hardship is a trend that has only intensified during an era of recessions, economic crises, and rising income inequality, according to a study tracking giving by ultra-high net worth individuals by Wealth-X and Arton Capital. The authors of the report write, “It is not enough to help fund new schools, fund access to digital technology or provide sufficient nourishment if it does not lead to longer-term, lasting improvements to socioeconomic conditions. Individuals with education but no opportunities will not be lifted out of poverty: they need access to opportunities for employment in wealth-generating projects.” 

New Study Finds Unexpected Source of Giving: Young Women

A new report by Indiana University contributes insight into women’s philanthropy, an arena of giving growing in scale, scope, and influence. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Drew Lindsay writes,

“Conventional wisdom says young Americans are not as generous as older generations, particularly if they’re not religious. That may hold true for most donors, says a new report, but younger women appear to be bucking the trend. Millennial and Generation X women who are single and unaffiliated with a religion give two-and-a-half times more money to charity than their older, similarly secular counterparts, according to the report, which looked exclusively at unmarried donors. Their giving also doubles that of peers who have loose ties to a religion.”

Big Ideas in Social Change

Journalist Tina Rosenberg looks across dozens of solutions to social problems profiled during the year in the New York Times “Fixes” column, and identifies three big themes.

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The Power of Our Peer Coaching Circle

By Johanna Anderson, The Belk Foundation; Janis Reischmann, Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation; Daphne Rowe, Donley Foundation; and Lindsey Stammerjohn, John Gogian Family Foundation

Over the past year, four of us—all women who work as executive directors of foundations with few staff—have been participating in a peer coaching group that grew out of Exponent Philanthropy’s Master Juggler Executive Institute. Because it has had such a meaningful impact on us, we wanted to share some thoughts about this experience and encourage others to consider forming your own peer learning group. 

We believe this is a wonderful and blessed profession. And, every now and then, it can be challenged by confusing nuances and unusual dynamics. Working for high profile boards and/or families requires discretion. But that discretion can often limit one’s outlets for exploring the situations in which we find ourselves. Having a close knit group of colleagues who appreciate and understand the challenges we are facing, while respecting the need for discretion, is invaluable.

Being part of really small organizations, it sometimes feels like we are working in a vacuum. Even though board members are available and ready to discuss issues at a 50,000-foot level, they are not in the “trenches” and really do rely on us to lead our respective foundations. Over the past year, through our peer coaching group, we have had the experience of seeing how others approach similar types of issues. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who struggles and, perhaps more important, the peer coaching group offers ideas and a fresh perspective on framing issues and on developing solutions.

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Voices of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy

By Kellen MacBeth, individual donor and giving circle member

Last year, I attended an event at a local university where the author of a new book discussed the current model for American philanthropy: entrepreneurship/innovation leading to wealth accumulation leading to philanthropic giving.

I was struck as the author listed major philanthropists as trend-setters who, while accumulating their wealth, had contributed directly or indirectly to many of the same problems they would later give money to solve. After more research on the subject, I decided there had to be a better model.

Whereas it’s true that the capitalist system that defines the American economy has lifted large scores of people out of poverty and contributed to great technological innovations, it also has left millions of struggling people behind. Our philanthropic sector today relies on funding from many of the individuals and companies that, like the robber barons of yesterday, contribute to the environmental, social, and health problems it tries to fix. Can this system, which tacitly endorses the creation of problems as a key step in trying to fix them, truly work? I don’t think so.

Instead, we need foundations and nonprofits to work to reform the system and not just the problems it creates. We need a new model—beyond corporate social responsibility—wherein corporations are created, just like foundations, to help and not hurt people. Whereas the pursuit of profit and the influence of supply and demand will naturally remain a part of the new system, if we humanize our corporations, we can expect and receive more.

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