Small Steps Toward Changing a Community’s Narrative

Exponent Philanthropy recently released its annual Outsized Impact report, an e-publication filled with funder stories and stats to illustrate the power of those who give with few or no staff, including the story below. Read the full report >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Bill Young isn’t new to humanitarian work. He’s been doing it for several decades, including 14 visits to Vietnam and 16 trips to Myanmar (Burma), where he participated in projects on clean water, education, housing, and more. “Those powerful years shaped me into the person I am and the passion I have for service today,” he says.

As executive director of the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation, Young’s passion is now focused on a small neighborhood in Hagerstown, Maryland, called Bester, defined only by a few streets and a railroad. There are no local service resources here; all of its residents must travel a great distance for social services, medical care, infant care, and even a major grocery store. Countywide, Bester has the highest number of children not living with a biological parent. Children can be found living on a neighbor’s couch, raised by a grandmother or an aunt, living in abandoned cars, going hungry.

“We knew we could make a difference if we were willing to commit to a long-term reinforcing and rebuilding of this community,” said Young. “This is the heart and the focus of the major project of our foundation.”

In 2014, the foundation committed infrastructure funding for the new Bester Community of Hope, an initiative of San Mar Children’s Home, one of its grantees. In partnership with the Casey Family Programs in Seattle, San Mar aims to safely reduce the number of children placed outside their homes by building “communities of hope.”

“The first thing we did was listen to the community and how it articulates its needs. Then we found a way to build support systems into the existing structure—so instead of the community going out for services, the services are offered right there.” For example, Bester Community of Hope partnered with the Community Free Clinic to provide healthcare to the children who needed care.

Continue reading

Foundation Executives: Make This a Year You Invest in Your Leadership

By Leslie Sholl Jaffe, independent consultant 

For many years, Exponent Philanthropy has offered programming and resources geared to the unique needs of foundation executive directors. This spring, it will be my privilege to again serve as co-faculty for Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Master Juggler Executive Institute, a unique 6-month peer learning opportunity for those in the most senior staff role at their foundations. Learn more about the Master Juggler Executive Institute >>

Leadership development is key to creating long-term sustainable systems within our organizations, and executive directors are at the heart of these systems.

Having spent the first 15 years of my career in the for-profit world working in large corporations, I was witness to the tremendous investment made by organizations in their most valuable assets: their people, who received training and development relevant to their leadership positions.

Nonprofit leaders and foundation executive directors are no less talented than their counterparts in the for-profit world, and the demands placed on them are no less than the demands placed on other chief executives. The greatest differential is the amount of investment made in their ongoing leadership development.

Continue reading

Create a Culture of Innovation

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group, as featured in 5 Best Practices of Extraordinary Grantmakers

Recently I read a book called The Innovation Formula by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, and I was inspired by the lessons there and began considering how they could be applied successfully to the field of philanthropy. Foundations are, of course, not private businesses, nor should they be. But the concept of innovation definitely isn’t limited to one field, and the best practices for innovation apply across the board.

Too often foundations request “innovative ideas” from their grantees but fail to accomplish the same thing internally. My first job in philanthropy was at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. I recall my boss explaining to me that we were looking for “innovative” ideas to fund. It made sense, except for the fact that no one could define what we meant by innovation. Fast-forward 16 years, and “innovation” remains a ubiquitous buzzword in this field.

While noble, funders’ insistence on funding “innovation” brings up problems.

  • Few funders have defined what they mean by innovation. And if you haven’t defined it, it is difficult to communicate this expectation to grantseekers.
  • The onus of innovation is almost always on the grantees. Philanthropists rarely expect themselves to be innovative. In many cases, I am sure that thought never crosses their minds.
  • Funders give little to no thought about how they expect grantees to be innovative. Most efforts to fund nonprofit organizational capacity, for instance, don’t include building capacity for innovation.

Lacking a clear definition of innovation or an understanding of how to build one’s innovation muscle, the implied assumptions are that innovation “just happens.” Further, lack of clear definition has come to imply that innovation must be a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.

The expectations for innovation are so high that most people naturally feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. The reality is the opposite. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas.

Extraordinary funders cultivate four key conditions that are necessary to support innovation in organizations, and they follow a four-step process to help innovation flourish.

Continue reading

Show Me the Story: Data Visualization

By Ann K. Emery, Emery Analytics, LLC

Funders create charts and graphs—visualize their data—for different audiences and different purposes. Sometimes funders serve as unbiased disseminators of data as-is; other times they seek to tell a story—and fast. It’s not that one method of data visualization—as is vs. storytelling—is better or worse. But it is up to you to figure out when your viewers expect each style and then switch back and forth.

The as-is approach to data visualization is the easy one. You create a graph. You clean up the default settings a little. You select a color palette that matches your brand. (Default color palettes scream, I have no idea what I’m doing!) The storytelling approach can seem like the harder one. But it’s not impossible. It’s just a newer style for most of us.

Who are your viewers? What information do they need? Do they want to see the data presented as-is, or do they want you to interpret the data?

Storytelling Strategies to Consider for Your Graphs

Let’s take a look at some examples. The graphs on the left present the data as-is while the graphs on the right interpret the data. They illustrate how to use the following design strategies to tell a story with your data:

  • Descriptive titles
  • Descriptive subtitles
  • Annotations, which are call-out boxes that give viewers more background information about a specific data point or two
  • Color saturation

Example 1: A bar chart

The chart on the right uses a descriptive title and color saturation to show how chocolate is the preferred ice cream flavor.

emery-exponent-images_page_02 Continue reading

OnTopic: A Foundation Communications Tool

ontopic_mission_no-signBy Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation

We’ve all been there: a mountain of proposals to read, voicemails blinking with messages, board meetings with packed agendas, and the frenzy to get grant checks out the door. In the midst of the commotion of day-to-day operations, it can be easy to lose sight of investing board and staff time in the deeper how’s and why’s of foundation work.

Amidst never ending to-do lists, how can we keep our perspectives centered on the core principles and values that drive our operations? How can we help ensure that board and staff members alike remain well-versed in the philosophies that inform decision making? How can we help to provide additional context for big discussions?

In 2015, Ball Brothers Foundation (and our 4-person staff) added a new “tool” to our communications toolbox to do just this. In addition to communicating with our 13-member board via quarterly newsletters, social media, and our board portal, we initiated a quarterly information piece in the form of a letter that we call “OnTopic.”

Continue reading

Trust Is Essential to Changemaking; Funders Must Take the First Step

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy, and Colleen O’Keefe, Sauer Family Foundation

In any group or in any relationship, trust is the feeling that allows people to work toward common purpose. Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs. But more than that, trust allows us to be ourselves, to be creative, use our talents and skills, and take risks. Where there is trust, we feel empowered to try new things, and take advantage of opportunities.

Where there is trust, we feel safe enough to be vulnerable. This is really powerful. It means we can share challenges and problems, offer new ideas, and provide honest feedback. By being able to be honest and open, we make it more possible for problems to be addressed, and good ideas to be considered and put into action.

For all its power, trust is often elusive, difficult to build or keep.

What Creates Trust?

The foundations of trust have to do with a feeling of safety. And at organizations, a feeling of safety comes from the leaders, the people who have formal authority and power. The management expert and thought leader Simon Sinek explains (TED Radio Hour on NPR, originally broadcast May 15, 2015):

The sense of feeling safe comes first. So when we feel safe, trust will emerge. This is what the foundations of leadership really are. The reason we call someone leader, is because they choose to go first. They choose to extend trust first, even before maybe any signs have been offered that they should.

It is the willingness to express empathy before anyone else. When we assess that someone would do that, and we see that they have that integrity, and they would willingly sacrifice their interests for our lives, we cannot help ourselves. The natural human response is trust.

As human beings, if those especially in leadership positions express empathy for our well being, we reward them with our trust, and our loyalty, our love, to see that their vision and the company is advanced.

We forget that these very human things require us to sacrifice. And it can come in any form, you know, time or energy. But I think the foundation of trust really is the willingness to sacrifice for another.

Opening Up Authentic Conversations With Grantees

The lack of trust between funder and grantee remains one of the biggest barriers to impact in philanthropy. Without open, honest conversations, funders can’t learn what nonprofits really need to deliver outcomes desired by funders, grantees, and most of all—people and communities in need.

Continue reading

Top 16 Posts of 2016

We thank all our readers and the many funders and colleagues who lent us their voices this year. We were pleased to do our part to inform and inspire your giving with these popular posts and many others.

The Case for Investing in Nonprofit Talent
Funders’ signals often encourage nonprofits to deemphasize staff development and stress programs and projects instead.

Changing the Culture of Philanthropy: Building a Movement to Fund Real Cost
Insufficient infrastructure and limited resources don’t lead to impact.

My Family’s Foundation Entered the Policy Arena, and We Are Not Looking Back
As a philanthropist, your voice carries tremendous weight in the policy arena.

Philanthropy Lessons: Who Knows More?
Hear from leading philanthropists about building respect and trusting the people working day in and day out on the complex issues we care about.

There’s No Such Thing as Nonprofit Sustainability…and What To Do About It (Part 1) and (Part 2)
What is the role of funders in the lively topic of sustainability in the nonprofit sector?

Impact Investing: Making the Case to Your Trustees
For foundations, the early stages of impact investing lie at the board level.

Continue reading

You Talk With Your Mentor About What Exactly?

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

mentoringMentorship is an elusive idea. Magazines are full of advice on building and maintaining most kinds of relationships (employment, marriage, parenting), but there are few road maps for finding and nurturing mentorships. This despite the fact that most, if not all, leaders will include the support they received from mentors as part of their recipes for success.

Recently I was at a dinner party with at least 10 people roughly my age, and I was expressing gratitude for one of my mentors. The other guests looked at me a little awkwardly. When I asked if anyone else had an important mentor in their lives, not a single one said yes.

No wonder, then, that when matched with a mentor in a formal setting like our Next Gen Fellowship Program, young people can feel a little lost. As leader of the fellowship, the mentor matches I make are the most opaque part of the program—meaning I’m not always in-the-know about exactly how mentors and mentees are approaching the relationship.

This past month, I set out to discover what makes this component productive and effective. I talked to 22 participants, both mentors and mentees.

Continue reading

Reclaiming Hope in Houston

Exponent Philanthropy just released Outsized Impact 2016, our third annual e-publication filled with inspiring funder stories and stats to illustrate the power of those who give with few or no staff, including the story below. Read Outsized Impact 2016 >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

In Houston, the largest city in Texas, the atrocity of human trafficking is hiding in plain sight. The Department of Justice estimates that 25% of trafficked victims pass through Houston at some point. This issue touches all; victims include all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. It is a complex, large-scale, community, and global problem.

This is the challenge that Rebecca Hove, director of strategic philanthropy at the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF), confronts daily. The epidemic of human trafficking requires creative and collaborative solutions and, as convenor of an anti-human trafficking donor working group, GHCF has built a team of individuals, foundations, and corporations who want to help.

“We have one founding principle: Members of the group are committed to change. We’re here to get things done, not just talk about it,” she says. “Everything we do at GHCF is donor-centered. We listen to what donors want, and we respond. A donor with ties to this community wanted to do something about human trafficking, and she asked GHCF if we would join her.” GHCF said yes.

Continue reading

Bringing Youth Philanthropy Home

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

In the fall of 2015, after three years sponsoring Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC) during events across the country, Foundant brought the youth philanthropy movement home to Bozeman, Montana. A partnership with our local Bozeman Area Community Foundation (BACF) and Bozeman Youth Initiative (BYI) allowed us to offer a grantmaking program to local youth ages 13–18, the Youth Giving Project. Foundant supported the program financially, BACF offered expertise and community connections, and BYI added youth development experience to the mix.

Part of our goal in starting the Youth Giving Project was to use the knowledge we’d gained from our work with YPC to jump-start our own project, while also keeping our eyes on lessons we learned along the way that we could then share with others.

Ask your community

Asking questions is the first, and probably most important, step we took in creating our program. Asking questions offers not only the opportunity to establish need but also opens doors you might not have known were there. Talking with constituents of your program and your potential grants can shed light on needs, confirm (or, in some cases, debunk) your assumptions of what the community will support, and ultimately save you time on adjustments or corrections later on. This initial outreach is also your first step in creating partnerships that can help with your ongoing effort and offer the expertise you might need as you move forward.

Continue reading