Take a Fresh Look at Feedback

feedback-1825515_640By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy 

As you engage in your philanthropy—working with grantees, applicants, board members, and, in many foundations, staff—you’re giving and receiving feedback all the time about things that concern you and things you love, whether you mean to or not. Feedback comes through via unconscious facial expressions, comments during meetings, or your enthusiasm for the work.

As a longtime student of giving and receiving feedback, I’m far from perfect at it. But I have found that bringing intentionality to my communication has been helpful. I encourage you to do the same.

Giving Feedback

Our staff at Exponent Philanthropy were trained by The Management Center in the SAW model of giving feedback:

  • S: Share your experience (what you loved or what concerned you) and how it affected you; mention why you think it matters.
  • A: Ask if you got it right and acknowledge that you may have made assumptions. Although your experience is always valid, your assumptions, understanding, and perception can be wrong.
  • W: Wrap up with next steps and state what you expect or will do next. It’s fair game to make a request of the other person, but it’s best not to go into the conversation with an expectation of what the outcome will be. Allow the other person to participate in finding a solution.

I’ve found it helpful to prepare in advance what I want to say using the SAW steps, keeping the following characteristics in mind. Download a worksheet to help you prepare >>

Some Characteristics of Good Feedback

  • Be specific. Talk about a single behavior or pattern of behaviors, not a person’s general character. Feedback should never be a smokescreen for making sweeping judgments. I think it’s best if you talk about one example or one pattern per conversation. Even if you have multiple topics to cover, it can be hard for the listener to take it all in. Give the recipient time and space to incorporate one thing at a time, especially if your goal is to improve a situation.

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Mindful Grantmaking for Effective Results

How often do we make decisions out of our own implicit biases?

By Angela Sanchez, ECMC Foundation

On September 26, the ballroom in the Chicago Marriott hotel buzzed with an energy not typical of most Monday mornings. Exponent Philanthropy CEO Henry Berman’s opening remarks at the plenary brunch set the tone for the rest of the National Conference. With raw candor, he focused on an element that, despite being so integral to the act of giving itself, is sometimes overlooked in the processes of philanthropy: the role of empathy in effective giving.

He recounted a time when, as a foundation trustee, he elected not to fund a community reading program because it used literature by Malcolm X and James Baldwin, prominent African-American activists during the Civil Rights Movement. As a white male of higher socioeconomic status, Mr. Berman openly noted that at the root of the decision were racial differences. Mr. Berman’s disclosure was as vulnerable as it was insightful to all in attendance. He acknowledged his failure to recognize the reading program for what it was: an opportunity to change lives using culturally relevant material.

Watch the full opening remarks >>

How often do we make decisions out of our own implicit biases? What do we assume about the characteristics and behaviors of the populations we seek to empower, such as accepting that female enrollment in youth STEM summer youth programs is low because girls are less interested in math than boys. These biases can also be expressed in what we think are the needs are of the community—that contemporary students directly experiencing racism and poverty in their urban environments will find Mary Louise Alcott and Mark Twain relevant.

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Impact Investing: Impact Measures and Monitoring Tools

This post is an excerpt from the complimentary resource Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations, created by Exponent Philanthropy and partners Mission Investors Exchange and Arabella Advisors. Want to align your investments with your mission? Download your copy >>

By Christa Velasquez, University of Chicago 

So much time and effort is focused on getting an impact investment closed and the funds disbursed. However, executing an agreement isn’t the finish line and, in fact, it may not even be the halfway point. Post-closing, there is still a lot of work to do in monitoring the performance of an investment to ensure financial health and intended impact.

Monitoring the performance of your investments ensures alignment with your foundation’s objectives, communicates expected and achieved impacts, ensures consistency among reported data, allows for performance measurement over time, and helps to identify the right questions for investors to ask. Unlike traditional investors that measure only their financial returns, impact investors track both the financial and social impact performance of their investments.

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How Funders Can Support Grantees’ Storytelling

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, PhilanthroComm

Storytelling is a powerful tool for change. The right stories—shared well—have unlimited potential to raise awareness and resources, and inspire action. How many of your grantee partners are sharing their stories in a strategic way? And how can you, as a funder, support your partners in sharing stories that matter?

Since before 2000, the Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC, has been interested in helping grantees raise money from individual donors. “Donors want to emotionally connect to an organization’s work, and nonprofits need storytelling to make that happen.”

“Program officers typically look at a nonprofit’s communications,” says Rick Moyers, Meyer Foundation vice president of programs and communications, “and then visit the organization and see the work they are actually doing. There’s often a moment when we realize their written materials don’t convey the power of the work they do. They are strapped for resources, and communications is often the lowest priority.”

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Spending Up Now, Not Later

Next month, Exponent Philanthropy will release 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. Subscribe to our email newsletter for notification of its release >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Between now and 2017, Quixote Foundation will give away its entire endowment.

June Wilson will never forget her job interview for director of operations at the foundation, where she is now executive director. It was December 2007, and toward the end of the interview process, the board said—by the way—you have to know that our last grant will go out in 2016 and the foundation will wrap up in 2017.

In 2011, the year Quixote announced its plan to "spend up," the extended Team Quixote met in Central Washington for a two-day planning and team-building summit | Photo credit: Quixote Foundation

An extended Team Quixote meets for a planning and team-building summit | Photo credit: Quixote Foundation

That might have deterred most people, but not Wilson. “I thought, ‘Wow! What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to craft an exit and see what can happen over time,’” she says.

It’s not about ‘spending down’ for Quixote Foundation. They call it ‘spending up,’ because they are putting the money to work in a way that ignites their mission to support free people in fair societies on a healthy planet.

“Spending up focuses on the idea of fulfillment. It’s not about a sunset or diminishment mentality,” says Wilson. “We know we can have a greater impact by using all our money for catalytic change now instead of doling out modest grants indefinitely.”

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You Can Go to College: It’s Not Just a Promise, It’s the Law

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts featuring grantmakers around the world, including the post below. All are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice at a local, national, or global scale. Read other posts in the series (scroll to “Related Content”) >>

By Sarah Bahn and Andrew Milner

patricktaylorIn 1989, the state of Louisiana passed a law that all children who achieve certain academic standards should be allowed to go to college regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.  This was the culmination of four years of campaigning by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, led by businessman Patrick Taylor. For funders of all sizes looking to make a bigger impact through advocacy, this is an example of how one small foundation extended an individual philanthropist’s values to generate far-reaching structural changes.

As a man from a poor family, Patrick Taylor was granted a full scholarship to Louisiana State University. He subsequently set up the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation in 1985 following success in the oil and gas industry, through which he and his wife promised to pay for 183 children from poor families in New Orleans to attend college, provided they studied diligently, maintained a certain academic standard, and stayed out of trouble.

Taylor realized that to expand his idea of a college education based on merit rather than wealth to all students, the state would have to fund it. Despite rules that must be followed when U.S.-based foundations engage in advocacy, there is a lot that taking a stance on an issue can do. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation recognized their opportunity to make major systemic change, even as a small foundation.

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Are You Listening?

By Jen Lachman, Lachman Consulting

On September 25, 27 funders and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered in Chicago for a daylong training as part of Exponent Philanthropy’s inaugural Coaching for Effective Philanthropy program.

The training began with the most important coaching skill, which has the potential to transform any leaders’ impact:


I can hear you saying, “Really? Listening can transform my leadership?”

I know. It’s a bold statement. But think about this for a second…

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How Funders Can Help Nonprofits Leverage Their Own Data

Una Osili, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” (Lord Kelvin)

As part of their day-to-day operations, many nonprofits automatically collect data, like clients served and services provided. Whether they realize it or not, these represent a wealth of valuable data that could be leveraged to solve today’s pressing societal issues. This information could be valuable to individuals both inside and outside of the organization without having to gather new data or spend extra money.

As one of the country’s largest providers of social services, The Salvation Army recognized it had a wealth of service data that could be an asset both internally and to others. They partnered with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to explore the opportunities that existed for using their data. Ultimately, this collaboration resulted in the creation of the Human Needs Index (HNI), a new, systematic way to measure human need in the U.S. and how it is evolving.

See “Fighting Poverty With Big Data: A New Tool for Nonprofits and Their Funders”

Funders are sometimes criticized by their grantees for putting too much emphasis on data gathering. The HNI example shows that funders (and research partners) can work with grantees/nonprofits to help them leverage the data they already have, to better understand their own work and to help others in the nonprofit sector and beyond.

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It’s Day One of the Trump Era: Let’s Defend Philanthropy

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

No matter whether your candidate won or lost the race for president on Tuesday, philanthropy was dealt a serious blow during the 2016 election race.

Never in our history have the roles of two candidates’ giving records and foundations been so prominently in the spotlight, as reporters uncovered allegations of possible wrongdoing at both the Trump and Clinton foundations and grappled with basic questions about just how generous—or self-interested—they were. History was made when those topics became part of the televised presidential and vice-presidential debates this fall.

To be sure, many people in philanthropy would have been overjoyed if the real issues we all grapple with were the ones getting so much visibility. Perhaps the candidates could have challenged each other over the merits of paying nonprofits to cover their overhead costs or earmarking money for specific projects. Or they could have debated the value of volunteering and other types of contributions that benefit charities versus donations of cash.

But instead, all that Americans, and indeed a worldwide audience, heard about the topic of philanthropy were charges of wrongdoing.

Continue reading in The Chronicle of Philanthropy >>

Henry BermanHenry Berman is CEO of Exponent Philanthropy. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee, donor advised fund holder, and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role. Follow Henry on Twitter @Berman_Henry.

5 Challenges to Teamwork in Family Giving

By Dawn Franks, Your Philanthropy 

Based on “5 Keys to Build Teamwork in Family Giving,” originally posted on Your Philanthropy’s YP Journal on March 23, 2016. 

“Coming together is a beginning,” said Henry Ford. “Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” I know Henry was referring to building cars, but that quote also holds the keys to a sustainable blend of family and philanthropy. Success depends on teamwork in family giving.

Over the past 10 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than 25 families involved with different styles of family giving—from the family pocket, from a donor advised fund, and from private family foundations. Each family brings all their personality, operating style, and history with them to each gathering of the family, and that includes when philanthropy is the subject.

Yet families don’t often see themselves functioning as a team. Differences and dysfunctions can be a hindrance to team building. Patrick Lencioni wrote a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team in which he describes the interpersonal aspects of team building. Each dysfunction is highly applicable to families involved in philanthropy.

Absence of Trust

If it seems unlikely that a family would lack trust, remember that no one knows us like our family. They know the best and the worst of us. Family knows our natural talents and every wart. So it isn’t surprising that, as Lencioni describes it, we might be unwilling to be vulnerable. Yet, as I have sat with families while they do the work of giving together, it’s when they value one another’s differences that they excel. Trust comes from knowing we can work toward a common good even with all the warts in the room.

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