We Need More Bridge-Builders in Our Fractured Era

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

In our divided world, I admire people who can cross borders and bridge chasms. I think of these uniquely skilled bridge-builders as ambassadors, able to move and navigate among different worlds, connecting people, organizations, and ideas.

People I believe who model this bridge-building in philanthropy include Jennifer Astone of the Swift Foundation, who engages diverse funders to explore how needs and issues in the United States connect with issues and trends internationally; Doug Bauer of the Clark Foundation, who educates and links a wide array of funders, nonprofits, and government agencies in New York State and nationally; Richard Toth, formerly of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, who with Grants Managers Network and Sara Engelhardt of the Foundation Center, created Project Streamline to bring associations of grantmakers, grantseekers, and fundraisers together to streamline practices; and Billie Hall of the Sunflower Foundation, who engages nonprofits and citizens throughout her state and beyond in health advocacy, bringing their voices to the policy table.

Last week I had the privilege of seeing another ambassador at work in philanthropy.

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Four Reasons To Speak Out About Your Philanthropy

By Courtney M. McSwain on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Foundations wrestling with the decision to speak publicly about their work received advice last month during Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference. Attendees gathered for a roundtable discussion on why and how to speak out, facilitated by Evan Mendelson of the David & Lura Lovell Foundation and Alexandra Toma of the Peace and Security Funders Group.  

Communicating and Speaking OutParticipants came to the table with a variety of questions, ranging from how to address transparency to which social media tools to use: Do we need a website, and when? How much do you publicize? How do you convince a board that going public is the right thing to do?

The dominant question was simply, Why go public?

The desire for privacy or a long-held belief that philanthropists should operate without drawing attention motivates more than a few funders to shy away from operating a website, using social media, or engaging the press. But it is important to think about what can be accomplished beyond writing checks, and going public can offer benefits without compromising a foundation’s core values. 

Here are four reasons to consider speaking out. Ultimately, philanthropists have to decide individually, based on their goals, if speaking out is right for them.

1. To Find Partners and Leverage Your Resources

There’s a reason organizations rejoice when their websites receive top billing from a Google keyword search—it means they are easy to find. The value of being searchable many not seem apparent at first, but consider what might happen if a like-minded partner (corporate, government, philanthropic, or otherwise) knew of the great work you support and wanted to help. That’s the example Toma shared about a Peace and Security Funders Group member that, after deciding to go public, caught the attention of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The organization was able to forge a $7 million partnership with USAID, greatly multiplying the impact of its philanthropy.

Even smaller opportunities can help to deepen your work. To attract new board members, for example, it is important for the community to know what you’re doing.

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The Makings of Phenomenal Foundation Executive Directors

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

Master Juggler Executive Institute

Foundation executive directors juggles many roles: strategic grantmaker, convener, collaborator, board wrangler, media spokesperson, technical assistance provider, mediator, and the list goes on and on.

With great thanks to the members of our inaugural Master Juggler Executive Institute for their insights, we present seven characteristics of phenomenal foundation executive directors. They’re a tall order indeed and part of a continual learning journey for even the best executives.

Masterful Communicators

“I’m learning that part of being an effective communicator is to deliver authentic messages that often are positioned squarely between the professional and the personal. It can be risky, but it’s also potentially powerful.”

Effective foundation executive directors are clear and confident communicators. They precisely and thoughtfully express ideas; frankly voice their opinions; communicate the why, the purpose, and the vision; and motivate others with their words. They also are skilled listeners and questioners, asking probing questions and guiding conversations to help others articulate their goals and move toward solutions. Exceptional executive directors also are adept at being quiet, at knowing when not to speak.

Great People-People

“Both introverts and extroverts can flourish in this capacity by focusing on and staying true to their relationship-building style.”

Phenomenal foundation executive directors have strong people skills and emotional intelligence. With a deep understanding of the humanness of this work, they are able to bring out the best in others. They are skilled at relationship-building and comfortable engaging with others.

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Get Inspired by Stories of #OutsizedImpact

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Tomorrow is National Philanthropy Day®, a day to recognize the contributions that philanthropists like you are making in communities across the country and around the world.

Colina FoundationWe’re celebrating by launching an #OutsizedImpact Twitter campaign to share stories of how our members are leveraging their dollar and non-dollar resources on behalf of society’s most pressing challenges. 

Get inspired by dozens of stories of outsized impact from members including Americana Foundation, Bernardine Franciscan Sisters Foundation, Chino Cienega Foundation, Colina Foundation, Enchanted Life Foundation, and many others. The stories were originally presented as part of the 2014 National Conference Hall of Outsized Impact, and we want others to know about them. 

Watch this video to learn more about what members have to say about the impact of Exponent Philanthropy’s member community.


I hope you’ll take part in the #OutsizedImpact campaign. Here’s how.

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Funders, Grantees, and the New Form 1023-EZ

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy 

The IRS is looking to speed its response time to applications for 501(c)(3) status. With a backlog of 60,000 applications and an average wait time of 9 months for applicants at the beginning of last summer, it’s no wonder.

The IRS now accepts a streamlined application for 501(c)(3) status, called Form 1023-EZ, which is intended to decrease both time to complete the application and time to review it.

What is Form 1023-EZ? Form 1023 is the full version of the application for 501(c)(3) status; the new, shorter version is cleverly named Form 1023-EZ. The new form is only 2 pages (versus 12 pages plus 8 supplemental sections of the full form). It can only be filed electronically and must be accompanied by a $400 filing fee, compared to $850 for most organizations using the full form.

But only organizations that meet a long list of criteria are permitted to use the shorter form. Primarily, EZ filers must be quite small, with annual income (gross receipts) not expected to exceed $50,000/year for 3 years and with less than $250,000 in total assets. In addition, filers may not be a foreign-based organization, an LLC or successor to a for-profit, a church, a hospital, a school, or other specified organization types. The IRS provides a worksheet at the end of the Form 1023-EZ instructions to help filers know if they are eligible to use the new form. Further, the IRS plans to require additional documentation from a randomly selected sample of EZ filers, so EZ filers may need to supply additional information. 

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Who Are the Emerging Voices in Philanthropy?

By Jessica Bearman and Sarah Deming, Bearman Consulting

For many funders, the idea that philanthropy is changing holds no surprise. Family philanthropy, corporate philanthropy, and community philanthropy already reflect changing demographics as younger donors join family boards; women and people of color lead philanthropic organizations; and donors of all types direct their personal wealth toward public good. To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo: We have met the new philanthropist, and she is us.

At the same time, emerging voices in philanthropy still struggle to be heard. Existing grantmakers and established donors can seize the opportunity to amplify their impact by learning from these new giving styles, motivations, and passions.

All types of people from all walks of life have given generously throughout time—but, for many, an affiliation with mainstream philanthropy is a new development. Who are today’s nontraditional philanthropists, and what makes them different?

Today’s Philanthropists

Increasingly, women, younger donors, and diverse racial and ethnic groups are claiming their spots at the table as significant givers, drawing on longstanding traditions and forging new ones. At the same time, philanthropy is no longer just for the affluent; people at all levels of wealth are pooling their resources to achieve more impact with their giving.

Says Kelly Brown, director of D5, a 5-year effort to bring new voices to the philanthropic table, “An important part of philanthropy’s efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion is to recognize the diversity within philanthropy itself. From peers and colleagues who are major donors to our shared causes to small giving circles in communities around the country, learning from and embracing the many ways all communities give can only strengthen our shared commitment to advancing the common good.”

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Philanthropy Debates Its Role

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

Debates about philanthropy’s role have heated up since the 1980s, as the federal government cut taxes and support for many social programs, a series of recessions battered the economy, and economic hardship deepened and expanded.

In this era of scarcity, philanthropy has been pulled into a much higher profile. Demands come from lawmakers seeking private sector allies, nonprofits looking to fill gaps left by government cuts, next generation givers feeling a sense of urgency to make impact sooner, and community and issue activists striving to make philanthropy more responsive and accountable to public needs.

Here are three major debates in the field.

Should philanthropy focus on economic hardship and environmental crises?

Economic hardship and critical environmental problems are prompting many to appeal to foundations and donors to focus more on assisting lower income Americans, and addressing climate change.

Critics point out that only a small percentage of total charitable giving is directed at alleviating or preventing poverty. (The Foundation Center estimates that 15% of foundations spend as much as 25% of their giving on social justice work.) Some are calling on the federal government to promote and reward giving targeted to poverty and human welfare by offering an enhanced charitable deduction; others propose eliminating the deduction for certain nonprofits they perceive as primarily benefiting the interests of donors themselves, such as large universities; and others call for a renewed philanthropic ethic of social justice.

Those who oppose these efforts assert that citizens enjoy an inherent freedom to give as they choose, and that favoring certain programs over others violates this freedom. Yet others oppose any government influence on private giving; and still others claim that giving to all varieties of institutions—including large universities—does benefit the disadvantaged.

Thought leader Gara LaMarche sums up this debate in a recent issue of Democracy:

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Politics and Philanthropy: Simply Showing Up Isn’t Enough

By Chasity Cooper on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

A fitting start to this election day, we share a recap from “Politics and Philanthropy: The Here and Now,” a session held during last week’s Exponent Philanthropy 2014 National Conference. Panelists included Diana Aviv of Independent Sector; Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; Jonathan Greenblatt of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civil Participation; and Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

Politics and philanthropy. Two subjects that differ markedly yet depend on the other to work effectively for our society’s citizens.

What is the current landscape of laws and tax benefits, and how does it impact the world of philanthropy? What steps can philanthropists take to make their voices heard by government officials?

“The work that we do at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy doesn’t focus on how policy affects organizations and institutions,” said Dorfman, “but asks a bigger question: How well do we in philanthropy leverage our limited dollars to really incite change in the world? The truth is, the government has enough revenue to play its proper role in society, but nonprofits and charities must be encouraged to look at the bigger picture rather than just focus on their specific causes.

Palmer agreed. “There’s a growing frustration among both public officials and charities to solve social problems, but both have to be willing to work collectively solve them,” she said. “Foundations have the ability to (and should) help the government do better. Policymakers feel as though they don’t hear from philanthropic organizations enough, and that’s because they simply want to know the depth of what we do.”

Aviv encouraged those in the room to leverage their relationships with public officials in order to voice what matters to their constituents. “Simply showing up isn’t a strategy,” Aviv said. She encouraged philanthropists to take a long view, focusing on building relationships with legislators rather than on a single piece of legislation.

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Inspiration, Outsized Impact at Close of 2014 National Conference

By Ebonie Johnson Cooper on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Creating solutions to society’s most persistent problems is the true power of philanthropy. This message was clearly delivered by Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan and the youngest recipient of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, during the closing plenary of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference.


Scott’s professional path represents the entrepreneurial spirit that often characterizes Millennials. Yet the 20-something was quick to admit that being an entrepreneur wasn’t her first career plan. Scott planned on a dream design job after graduation, but her perspective changed when the humanitarian design firm Project H challenged her class. “They asked us to focus on a need in our community,” said Scott.

Scott found herself next in one of Detroit’s warming centers for the homeless. “After I rambled for about 10 minutes asking the crowd for help, they told me exactly what I could do to help them—turn back on the television.” Blunders aside, Scott understood that the homeless often receive charity that is demoralizing. To the contrary, she remained committed to return 3 days a week, always at 8:00 p.m., for more than 5 months, listening and learning.

Over time, tweaking her plans for a coat to keep the homeless warm, “I went from prototype to prototype [and] I eventually earned the nickname, ‘the crazy coat lady,’” Scott said.

Yet Scott was certain of one thing: “It needed to be more than just a jacket.”

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Put Your Point of View Into Play: 2014 National Conference Panelists Discuss Trends, Path to Solutions

By Courtney M. McSwain on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Changing U.S. demographic trends, advances in technology, political polarization, and geographic mobility all impact the way communities are addressing social problems today. This was the underlying message conveyed at Friday’s spotlight panel, on the second full day of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference.

2014 National Conference spotlight panelPanel moderator Michael Dimock, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, set the framework for the morning’s discussion by outlining social trends affecting philanthropy. The influence of Millennials was among the biggest trends discussed, especially the way younger citizens leverage technology to work outside of the walls of traditional institutions.

“Millennials want to see change, and they don’t care where the change is coming from,” said Gabriel Kasper, senior manager at the Monitor Institute.

The expert panel agreed that technology shifts, in many ways, facilitate Millennials’ ability to form nontraditional communities of change as well as create entrepreneurial approaches. “Millennials are bringing an entrepreneurial sprit to problem solving,” said Kim Jordan, co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing and founder of the New Belgium Family Foundation.

Moreover, technology broadens access so that marginalized segments of society can circumvent institutions that shut them out. James Shelton, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, offered the ridesharing program Uber as an illustration of this point. “People think of it as a very convenient ride, [but] for thousands and thousands of people, it is a new small business,” Shelton said.

Patty Stonesifer, president and CEO of Martha’s Table, furthered this point by noting that the spirit of Uber will ultimately deliver disruptive innovations in philanthropic service delivery. “What’s the Uber of matching our excess food with families in need?” Stonesifer asked. “Technology can change the whole system…we’ve only scratched the surface of this.”

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