By Elaine Gast Fawcett, on behalf of ASF
“Innovation can help you give in a way that matters more.” — Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen
Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is obsessed with innovation.
In Sunday’s opening plenary lunch at the ASF 2012 National Conference, the family philanthropist and best-selling author of the book Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World spoke to 800 small foundations about innovation as a force that drives change and expands our human potential.
It’s innovation, she said, that will help small-staffed foundations evolve their giving potential.
“All of us here are compelled to live in a way that touches and transforms individuals lives. We are compelled to give,” she said. “And through innovation, every single small foundation has power to give in a way that matters more.”
That’s powerful stuff. But what does it mean to innovate? Especially for a foundation with limited staff, time, or resources?
In her talk, she gave some good examples of how small-staffed foundations can innovate. Among them, she encouraged funders to shift the grantmaking process to include more proactive giving, more strategic giving, and more collaborative giving. All of this makes good sense.
I have to admit, though: When I hear words like innovation, my inner editor goes on alert. It sure sounds good to say “we’re innovators in our field” or “we’re making innovative grants.” But is innovation another one of those trendy jargon words (like strategic and collaborative) that has infiltrated philanthropy? Or is there actual substance beyond the bling?
Here’s a definition that everyone can understand: Innovation means doing things differently than you’re doing now. Hopefully, with good results.
“But things are working just fine!” you might cry. “Why innovate if it isn’t broken?”
That might be true. Innovative is setting the bar high, especially for new and small-staffed foundations that are just learning to be intentional about their philanthropy.
Yet, Arrillaga-Andreessen made the case that by being innovative—by applying new ways of thinking to old problems, and by renewing the notion of what a small foundation is—the field can set new standards that can transform our world.
And that’s really the point, right?
What do you consider innovative in your foundation’s approach to philanthropy? What are some things you’ve done differently that brought you good results? Drop us a comment below. Let’s continue the discussion.
Still not sure if or how to innovate your grantmaking? Here’s a handy chart I found online that lists the patterns of innovation in philanthropy. Check it out on the Future of Philanthropy site.
Elaine Gast Fawcett helps foundations tell their story, educate their stakeholders, and move their mission forward. For 12 years, she has worked nationally to strengthen the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors as a communications and grantmaking consultant. Originally from the Maryland/DC area, Elaine now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Ted and brand new baby Scarlett. Reach Elaine at Elaine@fourwindswriting.com or on Twitter @4WindsWriting.