How to Make Big Data Relevant and Useful

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

Many common themes in philanthropy today revolve around the promises of “Big Data.” Grantmakers are continually called upon to be more transparent and to share their data, but many have become cynical as past data projects failed more than a few times due to incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated data. A misunderstanding regarding how their data will be used has also contributed to the weariness many grantmakers have regarding sharing data.

We believe three critical requirements have been missing among failed data initiatives: first, a reliable and distinct benefit for those who share data, and an understanding of how it can and will be used; second, an easy way to share data; and third, data that is up-to-date and accurate.

Grants management solutions have a unique and important role to play in helping data initiatives succeed.

  • By allowing grantseeking organizations to regularly use and update their data during their normal grant cycle, inaccurate or outdated data is eliminated.

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What You Will Find in Washington, DC at the 2014 National Conference

By Lauren KotkinExponent Philanthropy

“Washington is broken. It’s time to fix Washington.” These words are usually spoken by those who come here to govern the country. But they don’t actually live here.

Who does live here, in the District of Columbia? I do, along with several Exponent Philanthropy colleagues, more than 600,000 people in the district proper, and six million in the region. And I think we’d all say a lot is working in Washington.

This fall, October 31–November 1, Exponent Philanthropy is bringing its highly regarded National Conference to Washington, DC. Fuel your passions. Challenge your assumptions. Join the anticipated 1,000 participants in our nation’s capital, home to a robust nonprofit and philanthropic community. Learn more and register today

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Building a Tech Savvy Board

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

In my previous post, I shared why technology professionals can be a valuable addition to any organization’s board. But even without a technology expert among your ranks, there are ways to move your board toward being tech savvy.

Raise the profile of tech at your organization. Does your board realize the benefit of considering technology at the board level? Are board members missing the potential cost and time savings of smart technology decisions?

Consider a board-level tech committee. If your board is not used to talking about technology at its meetings, a technology committee can set direction and make recommendations to the larger board. A committee can also troubleshoot operational issues, research technology that may facilitate or streamline your work, and think about what technology the organization requires to run well.

Retain the expertise of a tech consultant. If your board were undergoing a strategic plan or wrestling with a thorny issue, you’d probably seek the services of an outside expert. Technology should be treated the same way. If your board needs basic tech know-how, an outside consultant can bring board members up to speed on the technology sector and answer questions.

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Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector by Strengthening Nonprofit Boards

By Cheryl Taylor, Foellinger Foundation

Integrity. Responsibility. Accountability. Results.

From our founders’ values, the Foellinger Foundation identified a strategy to realize their intent: We seek to fund effective nonprofits that serve children and families. But to ensure there are effective grantees in our community of Allen County, Indiana, we quickly identified a bigger goal of elevating the region’s nonprofit sector.

We use several approaches to address this goal, including capacity building grants, a lecture series for nonprofit staff and leaders, a sizeable grant to our local Nonprofit Resource Center, and two grant strategies that are particularly popular: The Carl D. Rolfsen Stewardship Award and our support of the local Nonprofit Resource Center’s “Get on Board” project to recruit, train, and retain emerging leaders as nonprofit board members.

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The Power to Change Philanthropy’s Bad Habits

By Sara Beggs, Exponent Philanthropy

I recently attended GEO’s 2014 National Conference and heard Charles Duhigg, award-winning New York Times business reporter who has spent more than a decade studying habits. His book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business explores the science behind habits and how to change them. Not only were many of us thinking about our failed attempts to keep to our New Year’s resolutions, we were pushed to think about how habits affect the organizations we support and the field of philanthropy.

Duhigg made the case that understanding habits is critical to transforming organizations and communities. Based on recent discoveries in brain science, it has become clear that for bad habits to change and good habits to start, there must be appropriate cues and rewards in place.

The process of changing habits might look something like this flowchart from The Power of Habit (shared here with permission):

Remarkably, after a habit is formed, the reward might not even be needed. And even more thrilling is this: A good habit in one area (e.g., increased discipline in eating right) is likely to spill over into areas (e.g., increased discipline in sticking to a budget).

But how does all this relate to philanthropy? In so many ways.

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Set Up Your Foundation Board to Make a Change

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy 

Is it time for your foundation board to undertake a big change—for the better? Is it time to introduce a new board policy or consider a new grantmaking strategy? Are you excited to recommend a board portal, conduct a board self-assessment, or take a good look at your foundation’s impact in the field?

Change takes effort, to be sure, and I’ve heard a fair amount of worry over the years about how to get the full board on board with a new idea. Here are some strategies I often recommend to board or staff members who champion new ideas:

  • Listen well. If you want board members to listen to you, your best bet is to model listening to them. Put energy into understanding others’ perspectives and respecting their concerns (however insightful or disproportionate they may be). After all, if a concern is real to someone else, it really is something for you to consider.
  • Be willing to amend your idea. Your idea may be truly great, or it may be more acceptable with some amendments. Or it may be a great idea for another board, or another foundation, or another time. In any event, an attitude of flexibility will pay off, even if it’s the perfect idea at the perfect time!

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Your Point of View Gives You an Edge

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

A point of view is a distinctive attitude about philanthropy—what you as a funder believe you can best accomplish, and how to do it. I have noticed that philanthropists who have a point of view are more intentional, more confident, and more bold and daring. They have thought through not only their mission and focus—but what they believe the purpose of their giving should be.

A point of view is personal, passionate, biased—and deeply considered. This makes it powerful. Having a point of view means committing to a way of looking at things, taking a stand. You acquire an edge, which allows you to cut to the urgent issue you’re most passionate about, and take action. With a point of view, you make decisions quicker, and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Statements by philanthropists offer a window into their unique points of view:

  • We are catalysts.
  • Personal responsibility is critical, and we help people to help themselves.
  • Many are caught in circumstances where they can’t earn a living and support their families. We try to change the system and increase opportunity for all.
  • We look for the smartest, most dedicated, most passionate people working in nonprofits and social enterprises, and empower them to do what they do best.
  • In my career in business, I lobbied government on behalf of our industry’s interests. Now as a philanthropist, I advocate government on behalf of the cause I believe in. How much more important this is!
  • Current events point to a landmark chance to make the most of our assets, and we can’t wait. We must act decisively, now.
  • When there is a need for someone to take bold action, most people assume that someone will act. But often, no one does. People are timid, afraid, or they don’t feel they can make a difference. But funders have tremendous freedom, and perspective. That is why when we see a need, we speak out, and act boldly.

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Welcome to Junior Philanthropy

By Scott Brazda, The Stuller Family Foundation

“Over the next few weeks you’re going to feel like you’re in a philanthropy class, a theology class, a business class, a sociology class, heck… even a life skills class.” And so begins the first session for the Junior Philanthropy classes I’ve conducted in a number of schools in our little part of southwest Louisiana.

What’s the difference between charity and philanthropy? Why do people give? How do people give? How do people ask? What are the characteristics of a winning nonprofit organization? Can young people make a difference? And do you have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist? Those are just some to topics sent toward the fertile minds of students between the ages of 12 and 18.

I was looking for a way to lay a foundation with our area’s young people—our future leaders, board members, staff, and volunteers. I was looking for a way to plant a seed of community, and to present them with…. possibilities.

I began with the low-hanging fruit—my high school alma mater. The school’s director of faith formation asked, “Can we fit your philanthropy lesson within our senior theology classes?” To which I answered, “Didn’t Jesus know a thing or two about ‘giving’?” And so off we went.

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Are You Overlooking This Type of Professional for Your Board?

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

Quick. Imagine your ideal board members sitting around a table. Who is there and why?

Most of us agree that board members should be committed to the organization, and good leaders. It may be helpful to include an attorney to draft a conflict of interest statement. A CPA who serves as treasurer. But what about a technology professional?

I recently had the chance to attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference, and at the session “What’s Your Board’s IT IQ?” I was challenged to consider a professional that’s often left off the list: the information technology (IT) professional.

Presenter Leon Wilson of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Highway T told us that just 1% of directors in for-profit corporations have a tech background. We don’t have stats on foundations or other nonprofit organizations, but we can assume they’re similar.

And there’s really no reason for this gap.

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Our Brand Catches Up With Our Reality

By Floyd Keene, Triple EEE Foundation

The world of philanthropy is changing. Welcome to this new world, Exponent Philanthropy.

As the Association of Small Foundations (ASF) changes its name, the Triple EEE Foundation is both supportive and very excited about the reality encompassed by the new brand. Here in the Chicago suburbs, our foundation has for years tried to impact the world in a way far beyond our means. Our old friend, ASF, has stood at our side and helped us. Now our new friend, Exponent Philanthropy, continues to stand there to help, but also to excite and to motivate us anew.

Our foundation’s deep respect for ASF started in 2000. That year I went to an ASF meeting in Chicago and attended an investing workshop. The workshop addressed impact investing, which was then called “mission investing.” I really don’t remember what exactly was said at that workshop, or the names of the speakers. But I do remember leaving the room thinking, “Wow! This mission investing idea is the most amazing concept I have heard in a long time.”

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