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.

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Making Sense of Focus

By Karen Prager Balliett, Solon E. Summerfield Foundation, Inc.

Focus |ˈfōkəs|

  • the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition

Last fall, I signed up for Exponent Philanthropy’s 7-month distance learning intensive: Finding a Focus. Three master facilitators—including the lead, Exponent Philanthropy’s Sara Beggs—guided our cohort (a small and diverse group of executive directors, program directors, and funders from foundations scattered across the U.S.) to recognize how focused decision making has the potential to enhance the grantmaking process, and spur a more united and intentional cycle of funding.

What foundation would not be satisfied to refine and improve how it defines the focal points of what it funds and why?

Why focus? 

Focus, an act of concentrating interest or activity on something, turns out to be an essential resource for your board and management team. Focus is an action-driven methodology designed to yield strategic vs. random decision-making.

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Reclaiming Philanthropy’s Role as Changemaker

change 3By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

I see dozens of funders around the country making change—catalyzing new ways of doing and thinkingwithout the support of a sizeable staff.

This kind of change is bigger in scope than starting a new nonprofit organization, or helping a promising organization serve more people. Changemaking by small-staffed funders is transforming how people think about and approach the most important and urgent issues we face. It is bold and daring, and it shifts the status quo.

Can more philanthropists embrace their power to provide the authentic, responsible, and bold leadership necessary for change? I believe so, and I want to challenge you to be a changemaker. 

Let’s begin by exploring the mindset of changemakers.

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Donated and Discounted Technology Resources for Funders, Nonprofits

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy

Technology in the social sector is behind the curve, according to Gayle Samuelson Carpentier, TechSoup’s chief business development officer, who spoke on the May 22 webinar Navigating the World of Donated & Discounted Technology. The economic crisis, rapid changes in technology, and the lack of in-house technology management contribute to the situation.

What to do? Gayle reviewed good practices for foundations and nonprofits who are planning for technology changes, plus a number of ways to investigate donated and discounted technology, including Good360, Digital Wish (for educators and their supporters), and TechSoup, where 90+ technology donors provide resources to NGOs.

Watch the webinar recording (Exponent Philanthropy members) or check out our Educational Programs calendar for upcoming in-person programs, conference calls, and webinars.

Here are examples of the donated or discounted technology available through TechSoup:

  • Website—GoDaddy offers nonprofits free website hosting services, usually $10/month
  • Cloud storage—Box will store your files in the cloud for easy access and sharing, usually $10/month for a business membership
  • Accounting—Quickbooks Essentials for accounting typically runs $27/month

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6 Ways to Champion Change From the Inside Out

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy 

Do you want to catalyze change at your foundation? Perhaps you want to improve board dynamics, refine your mission, or implement new technology. Many forces can initiate change, and here we explore how your fellow trustees and staff champion change successfully from the inside out.

Every situation is different, of course, and we encourage you to use these ideas not as a checklist, but as inspiration and support as you craft an approach tailored to your particulars.

Prepare. You don’t need to become an expert in all matters related to the change you will propose, but it is important to gather sufficient information to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, and to be able to share appropriate information with others. Be sure to appeal to both the head (with data, sample forms, time lines, and the like) and the heart (with stories of others’ successes or lessons learned, for example).

You may also want to spend time learning about change itself. Inside Change looks carefully at how change happens within organizations and encourages us to think about how to transform judgment into curiosity, frustration into excitement, and fear into courage.

Listen well. Plenty of evidence suggests that people are curious, innovative, and adaptable. So why can it be so hard to create change? Well, to start, when people feel pushed, they often resist.

In Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein describes the emphasis our culture places on telling and doing rather than listening and asking. He describes the power of learning to inquire, humbly. By asking others about their experiences and ideas, we create the possibility of learning from them and, in turn, building trust and gaining information that can inform and improve our plans for change.

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Considerations When Making Significant Gifts

By Betsy Brill, Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd.

Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd., first among Exponent Philanthropy’s valued Professional Level Sustaining Partners, provides a range of customized services to families, individuals, and closely held and family owned businesses, and is a leader in best practices in philanthropy.

Effective and meaningful philanthropy takes many shapes and forms—and sometimes what sounds like the simplest charitable activity to undertake can be the most complicated.

Take, for example, one-time significant gifts. Whereas there is no hard and fast rule about what constitutes a significant gift, what we are referring to here are gifts over $500,000 to an organization or institution. There are numerous horror stories of large gifts gone wrong resulting in years of legal action; institutions not following a donor’s intentions; or heirs discovering that funds were misused or not used in the way in which the donor had intended.

We regularly work with individuals and families to help them ensure that the gift they want to make is a win–win for both the donor and recipient organization. A big part is understanding the best course of action.

One example is right-sizing the gift. Giving $5 million to an organization with a $1 million budget could be disastrous.

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Intentional Philanthropy: A Framework

by Sara J. Redington, The Miles Foundation

This post, by Exponent Philanthropy 2015 Next Gen Fellow Sara Redington of The Miles Foundation, originally appeared on the foundation’s blog (May 25, 2015).

Exponent PhilanthropyCFX0NGvUMAA3Iut’s 2015 Next Gen Fellows Program kicked off last week with a training intensive in Washington, D.C. Besides enjoying unseasonably warm weather and a robust conversation with foundation leaders from across the country, I was immediately captured by the intentionality with which the Exponent faculty and Next Gen Fellows approached their work.

These leaders are asking the tough questions. They are challenging themselves and their organizations to be more purposeful in their roles and how they effect change in their communities. Intentional philanthropy became the resounding theme of our two days together – and from it stemmed numerous innovative ideas about how foundations can maximize and amplify their impact.

While intentional philanthropy undoubtedly has multiple facets, below are the top six areas that seemed most critical to adopting a strategic approach:

1. Honing mission. Most, if not all, foundations have a mission that outlines their foundation’s purpose and (at least generally) identifies their founder’s intent. Many of these foundations, however, felt that their missions were too broad. A broad mission can prevent boards and staff members from feeling that they are really making a defined impact in any one area. Taking the difficult steps to assess guiding principles, plan strategically where and why a foundation wants to make a difference, sharpen the focus, and align the mission with institutional goals can help to provide a clear guide both for the foundation and its grantees.

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11 Paths to Effective Giving – Recapturing What Is Powerful

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

It’s common for Exponent Philanthropy members who’ve made significant impact to reflect back and say, “Money wasn’t the most important thing. It was really about being a catalyst, making things happen.”

Philanthropy is more than transferring money. It’s about using passion, knowledge, connections, advocacy, and dollars to make change on important issues. Central to success is listening, learning, leveraging, and leading.

Yet when we teach and write about grantmaking, we fixate on how best to carry out a bureaucratic, paper-based, transactional process for getting money out the door. Guidelines, applications, due diligence, dockets, decision processes, grant agreements, reports, and evaluations absorb our attention.

Buried is the passion, the people, and the daring challenge of making change in the real world. 

It’s time to recapture what is powerful. The following pathways will guide you to the messy heart and soul of grantmaking, its nitty-gritty complexity, and its intensity and excitement. Once you place learning, relationship-building, and your powers beyond dollars at the center of your work, you will achieve greater impact, and find yourself on a journey that is exhilarating.

1) Choose a Process That Makes Sense for You

Resist the impulse to take a grantmaking process off the shelf. Allow your process to emerge after you’ve considered your mission, goals, capacity, culture—and the following tips.

2) Focus, Focus, Focus

Zeroing in on an important issue or community you care about helps you maximize your resources and leverage your dollars and time. Focusing also sets you on a course so you can accumulate experience, knowledge, and contacts.

See Exponent Philanthropy’s resources on planning for impact

3) Immerse Yourself In Your Issue

Funders have unique perspective across organizations. They also have unique access to people with knowledge. Make use of these powers. As Megan McTiernan, executive director of Thomson Family Foundation, observes, “The decadent thing about this field is that you can sit down and talk with anyone you want.”

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A Formula for Achieving Impact

By Gerald P. McCarthy, philanthropic and nonprofit advisor 

Remember the first time you were asked to speak in front of an audience? Probably you were inclined to decline. Perhaps you thought you would embarrass yourself somehow. You were likely a bit frightened to step into the limelight. You eventually said yes, though.

Accepting the invitation to make more of an impact with your grantmaking is a little like saying yes to that first speech. It is easier to say no and keep on with what you are doing, which seems to be doing just fine, thank you. It asks for a more active way of grantmaking, and can certainly move your philanthropy out of the background and into the forefront. It forces you to think about the process of grantmaking and also its results.

That is what “getting to impact” is all about: getting results and making a difference that you, your grantees, and other interested parties can see.

Opportunities abound for donors to make an impact, whether they are changes in local, state, or national laws and policies; building a new park or facility; or improving sanitary conditions or food safety in other countries.

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Prepping Youth to Attend Site Visits: In Their Own Words

By Nikki Hilgert, Exponent Philanthropy

Involving youth in site visits gives a whole new energy to the process for everyone involved. Plus, nonprofits say that young people often ask the best questions on site visits.

As with any new experience, preparation is key to successful site visits with youth—and conversation about an upcoming site visit is one great way to prepare. Recently, Annie Hernandez of Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation modeled a helpful dialogue about site visits with two teen philanthropists: Sarah Saltzman and Luke Sturtz.

teen-philanthropy-cafe-web-bannerThe dialogue that follows was based on an exercise in our new Teen Philanthropy Café reader Thoughtful Site Visits.

Read more from Annie, Sarah, and Luke in the recent post “5 Ways to Involve Youth in Philanthropy”

What are some personal reasons you may have for visiting a nonprofit? What would you like to learn?

Luke: One reason is to get a feel for who the people are you’re working with. One-on-one interaction adds so much more value than reviewing a proposal on paper.

What are some skills or information you can gain from site visits?

Sarah: Being able to ask thoughtful questions and articulate what you’re curious about is a crucial life skill. Even in casual conversation, it’s important to be able to ask intelligent questions and maintain conversation with new people. I was shaky in this area when starting to go on site visits, and have improved.

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