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?

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Remote But Not Far Away

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

Exponent Philanthropy’s main office is in Washington, DC, but Membership Manager Linda Zimmerman works from her home in Vermont and has for more than a decade. A handful of other staff members also work remotely.

We know that many funders are working this way too.

  • Family members have moved away, and the board is working in several cities.
  • A small foundation’s sole staff person works from her home office.
  • A philanthropic couple is busy with grantmaking to nonprofit leaders across the world.
  • An employee comes into the office three days a week but spends the other two working from home.

After all, telecommuting has grown almost 80% since 2005. Better networking technology, social networking services, videoconferencing solutions, and cloud computing mean it’s easier than ever before to work remotely. I think it’s safe to say that working remotely is a new normal. 

With that, we’ll all have to figure out ways to make it work for us. I don’t have the answers, but I do have ideas that remote workers or telecommuters – and those who work with them – can consider.

Continue reading

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
michael-smith

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