Foundations, Know Thyself

By Scott Brazda, The Stuller Family Foundation

I’ve been on local television for nearly 30 years, and the recognition that comes with it (especially to an older demographic) drives my 9-year-old son crazy. So when a middle-aged gentleman stopped me in the parking lot of a local restaurant a couple weeks ago, and wanted to know if I was “the news man,” Nick the Charming Scoundrel sighed and asked:

“Are you like the Old People’s Celebrity?”

It is what it is. I’m not sure how he specifically defines ‘old people’ (I remember thinking my Dad at 45 had to be the most ancient human being on the planet), but his analysis struck a chord with me when it came to giving. I mean, I could deny that most of the people who call my name at a ballgame or conference are over 30, but that is pretty much the truth.

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Look to Your Community Foundation in Times of Crisis

By Kristin Laird, Foundant Technologies, an Exponent Philanthropy Sustaining Partner

Everyone wants to help during a crisis, and, for many, that means giving money. But few understand what it takes to distribute funds to the people, businesses, or nonprofits that will create the greatest impact and fulfill the most need—especially if the money lives in different funds at different organizations.

Enter community foundations, which are inherently good at sharing information and resources. In fact, they do it all the time. Community foundations exist to help others do more with less and find ways to strengthen a community through common resources, ingenuity, and communication.

In the community foundation world, you should never have to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ especially with things like disaster preparedness and recovery. Our community of community foundations is amazing and collaborative.

—Bridget Wilkinson, Executive Director, Bozeman Area Community Foundation

When Disaster Strikes


On the evening of July 30, [2016] a severe thunderstorm moved into the area of Ellicott City where it dumped an estimated 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in two hours. The flash flood that resulted inflicted severe damage to the area primarily on Main Street. Many homes, businesses, sidewalks, and landmarks were damaged by the flooding, with the city’s landmark clock being one of those impacted. A state of emergency was declared… [read more]

The flooding in Ellicott City spurred a downtown business group to raise funds, but left them with the (not unusual) conundrum of how best to distribute the money. The dilemma is remembered by Foundant’s Client Success Manager Aaron Spevacek:

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Top 5 Ways to Make an Impact Beyond Grantmaking

By Glenmede, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner

Originally distributed as part of Glenmede’s Top 5 series

While grantmaking remains one of the most powerful ways for philanthropists to create an impact, new ways of thinking have inspired philanthropists to leverage additional strategies.

Become a Strategic Partner, Not Just a Funding Source

Grantmakers have the ability to impact grantees in a number of ways beyond providing funds. By strategically partnering with your grantees, you can gain a better understanding of the issues and challenges they face. Your partnership may open new opportunities for your grantees through providing access to mentorship, education, training or even new staff and team members. You likely have relationships and other connections that could benefit the organizations you support in a variety of ways.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Have you ever considered working alongside the organizations that you fund? One of the most mutually beneficial and impactful experiences for organizations and their grantees is to work alongside one another. As a funder, you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the projects and programs you are supporting while building a deeper connection with your grantees. For grantees, these moments provide an opportunity to see you as more than a funding source and learn more about the mission, vision and values of your organization.

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Going Beyond the Grant in Rural Communities

By James P. McCrary, philanthropic consultant

Small funders have a limited amount of grantmaking capacity and, to be impactful, must think about how to use those funds strategically to help their key nonprofit partners become more stable and proficient. This requires the funder to develop a more familiar relationship with the grantee—understanding its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and be prepared to provide technical assistance (directly or through qualified consultants) as needed. This is particularly important in small rural communities that have fewer nonprofit agencies to work through.

Multi-role nonprofits

For nine years, I served in a professional grantmaking role at a community foundation that had a five-county footprint. Our core county was flush with nonprofit agencies and resources, but three of our four outlying counties had much less to work with. In some cases, a single rural county nonprofit had many identities (e.g., food pantry, utility bill assistance, mental health service referrals, substance abuse treatment, transportation assistance, domestic violence intervention, and emergency housing).

In underserved rural communities, using philanthropic resources strategically must include organizational development and capacity building of “multi-role nonprofits” that act as social services clearinghouses and safety nets. As community dependence on these “multi-roles” increases, such nonprofits must be in position to make well-informed decisions in the boardroom, to create partnerships, to have a reliable source of core operating dollars so grant dollars can be dedicated to strategic needs, and to make a case for support that will inspire donors who want their contributions to have a perceptible impact.

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Increase Your Impact: Invest in Nonprofit Staff

Fund the People announces Fund the People Toolkit—the most comprehensive guide for maximizing investment in the nonprofit workforce

Nonprofit organizations will always need good people. And these people will always need support to successfully do their work. As a funder or grantee, how do you know which investments will make the biggest difference? And how do you move past fads, shiny objects, and other noise in the social sector to improve your efforts?

One of the most effective strategies for improving the impact and performance of nonprofit organizations is to invest in the nonprofit workforce. When you intentionally deploy resources to build the support systems that enable staff development, you’re able to advance equity, inclusion, performance, impact, and sustainability at the organizations. This improves program and services outcomes, which has benefits that extend far beyond the organization.

So where do you start?

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Deep Listening Starts Here

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy, and Jen Lachman, Lachman Consulting

Listening. It’s a skill we’ve been talking about a lot here at Exponent Philanthropy.


First, because we believe that listening is an essential skill for effective philanthropy. When—and only when—we listen deeply and humbly to those we serve, can we learn about their true needs and how we can partner most effectively to create meaningful change.

And second, because most people (grantmakers not excluded) are not as good at listening as we’d like to think. Listening deeply to another person takes real focus and attention, and our multitasking brains and fast-paced environments present endless distractions that make it hard for us to really tune in to what someone is saying.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’re committed to closing this skill gap and helping our members become better listeners. At our CONNECT conference in October, we’re offering a Listening Workshop that will help attendees learn, practice, and apply deep listening skills.

Jen Lachman, co-facilitator of the CONNECT Listening Workshop, offers some suggestions for how you can deepen your listening.

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Community Foundations: Balancing Community Needs and the New Donor Mindset

By Laura McKnight, Embolden

Your community foundation is working hard to get your donors involved and help them understand the importance of supporting not only their own favorite causes, but also the most pressing community needs identified by your team and board of directors.

You are also closely watching key trends in philanthropy:

  • Families want to be involved in philanthropy and philanthropic legacies are community treasures to be passed down through the generations.
  • Nonprofits in your community expect to see a benefit from the rising philanthropic investments in our society.
  • Donors want to be associated with philanthropic institutions that are committed to transparency, results, and data-driven strategies.

You want to maximize these trends to grow your mission. If you are like many community foundations, though, you are facing a challenge as you balance two seemingly competing factors:

  • Community needs. The needs in your community keep growing. Nonprofits’ requests are growing. This makes it even more important for you to grow your unrestricted funds and your own operating endowment.
  • New donor mindset. You are watching social impact grow as a priority in today’s culture, and you know philanthropy is an important part of your donors’ lives. Donors enjoy a wide range of social impact activities, including giving money to nonprofits, volunteering, serving on boards, purchasing products that support a cause, recycling and respecting a sustainable environment, celebrating at community events, and marketing favorite charities.

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Thoughtful, Informed Philanthropy in the Wake of Disaster

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Nature is at once powerfully beautiful and destructive.

August’s awe-inspiring solar eclipse brought us together regardless of our stations in life. However different in heritage, race, politics, wealth, interests, or beliefs, we all share our planet.

In contrast to our awe at the solar eclipse, those outside Harvey’s and Irma’s cones of destruction have, from the comfort of our homes, borne witness to unbearable conditions ranging from loss of property to loss of life. As these storms deliver unimaginable destruction with wind and water, many westerners are facing forest fires that likewise consume all in their paths.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by disasters, and we send our admiration to first responders, women and men of the National Guard, and others risking their own safety to help.

As philanthropists, many of us are in a position to offer assistance, and we should. From prior disasters like these, we know disaster recovery is not a short-term endeavor. Many will face a long road ahead.

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Succession Planning: Becoming New After 40 Years

By Mally Cox-Chapman, Benefactory Philanthropic Advisors LLC

Most conversations on succession planning turn to how to bring on the next generation or whether to sunset the foundation. Eldon and Betts Mayer thought differently. They wondered if their community on an island in Maine would be willing to take on their family foundation. Three years later, the fund has an engaged board of directors and over 450 donors.

Here’s how they did it.

Maine’s Chebeague Island has 350 year-round islanders and over 2000 summer residents. Three miles by five miles, the island has no bridge to the mainland. It does have a general store, a lovely hotel, and a thriving boatyard, where both lobstermen and recreational boaters coincide. Chebeague also has ten nonprofits that perform many functions that government usually does.

Over the past 40 years, Eldon Mayer has been a moving force for most of the island’s nonprofits, including a superb library, a recreational center that has both a basketball court and a pool, and a high-quality day care and early childhood learning center, open year-round.

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Why We’re Sending 12 Members of Our Family Foundation to a Single Conference

By Erin Bird, Tracy Family Foundation

Diana Bittner was excited. She was inspired. She was ready to learn. As a trustee of the Tracy Family Foundation (TFF), Bittner was one of seven TFF members from across the United States who converged in Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the Exponent Philanthropy’s 2015 CONNECT Conference.

Bittner and her fellow TFF trustees spent three days discovering innovative new ideas, networking with other foundations and their attendees, and building a more close-knit group within the foundation.

“It was very inspiring to meet so many individuals from different types of foundations who were all so passionate about what they do,” said Bittner, a third-generation (3G) Tracy family member. “But at the end of the day, it was a true bonding experience for all of us in TFF. We were all invested in being there and excited to share our experiences from the day with the others from our group.”

Four generations of Tracy Family Foundation

4 Generations, 100 Members Strong

TFF was founded in 1997 by the second generation Tracy family members (2Gs) to honor their philanthropic parents and give back to the community in which they grew up.

The organization’s mission is to “provide resources to organizations that foster the values of Robert and Dorothy Tracy—a Catholic/Christian belief, honesty, integrity, fairness, and a strong work ethic. The Foundation seeks to proactively strengthen Brown County in Illinois and the surrounding Region by investing in the education, youth, families, and the capacity of these communities. The Foundation is also the vehicle for developing a philanthropic spirit among Tracy family members.”

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