Off and Running at the 2016 National Conference

Kickoff for "Coaching for Effective Philanthropy"

Yesterday’s preconference kickoff for “Coaching for Effective Philanthropy”

PhilanthroFiles is on a quick hiatus this week for the 2016 National Conference, and we look forward to bringing you a conference recap here next week.

In the meantime…

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Mark your calendar for these upcoming educational programs:

990-PF Tax Seminar
January 24 | Washington, DC

Master Juggler Executive Institute
6-month program launching April 5-7 in Washington, DC

Next Gen Fellows Program
6-month program launching June 12-13 in Washington, DC

October 15-17 | Denver, CO

2018 National Conference
September 28-30 | Philadelphia, PA

We’re so grateful for the nearly 950 participants joining us at the conference and our conference supporters.

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

By David Jeffrey, National Commander of The Salvation Army

Poverty is one of the trickiest social issues to define, understand, and alleviate because of its complexity: it affects many aspects of life in a uniquely vicious cycle. But only when it is properly defined and understood can effective action be considered. Nonprofits need to deeply understand the issues they are working to solve; just as important, their funders need reliable tools for smart decision-making and accountability.

The Human Needs Index (HNI) is such a tool. Created by The Salvation Army in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the HNI uses a wealth of service data to provide a new, in-depth look at need in the United States.

Active in every zip code, The Salvation Army is the largest nonprofit provider of social services, meeting basic human needs across the United States. Each year, approximately 30 million people are assisted through myriad local programs in more than 7,600 facilities nationwide.

As part of our donor stewardship, we have closely tracked and measured our services from the start, producing a treasure trove of data that the HNI now leverages.

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Youth Philanthropy: Collaborative From the Start

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

Originally featured on GMNsight, a professional journal written for and by the members of Grants Managers Network

In philanthropy, it seems everyone is talking about collaboration. The more we aspire to work together, the more we find that effective collaborations require patience, practice, and sometimes teach hard lessons. Earlier this year, Michael Moody wrote that aspiring collaborative donors “face distinct challenges related to their own capacity and power [and] their tolerance for risk and transparency.”

So, whereas we understand the rewards of collaboration to be high, collaboration is still hard. But what if this is just a phase for philanthropy?

Panel at Youth Philanthropy Connect 2016 International Conference

This summer, I participated in the international Youth Philanthropy Connect Conference, aptly titled “Building Tomorrow, Together: The Future of Philanthropy,” and I observed an ease of relationship-building that could one day transform our field. There I saw the future of philanthropy, those in the 8- to 21-year-old set for whom collaboration is a central part of who they are and how their first experiences unfold.

Over five years, the conference has grown to 58 participating organizations and 180 participants. During the launch presentation on the new site, we learned that the global youth philanthropy field has distributed over $15 million in grants since 2001, making it a distinct new entrant into the larger nonprofit sector and one whose influence is just starting to be felt.

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Creating the Funder Network I Needed

ConnectionsBy Claudia Baier, VNA Foundation

As representatives of grantmaking foundations, I imagine we all feel fortunate to work in a field that is both rewarding and challenging. We have colleagues who are respectful, smart, and devoted to making a difference, and most of us are lucky to have dedicated boards that support our activities. Working for a smaller-staffed foundation also allows us to be more responsive and nimble; we simply don’t have the bureaucracy that challenges our peers in larger foundations.

But, although we love our work and the communities we serve, smaller foundation staff can sometimes feel isolated. When we walk to the water cooler, do we ever find a conversation in progress? Are our offices equipped with designated break rooms with tables and chairs for communal lunches, or is there a storage area in the corner with a one-cup Keurig rather than a coffee pot? Do we have plenty of time to join our colleagues for lunches and attend a variety of meetings, or do we more often eat at our desks to be sure the office is staffed and the always looming pile of reports get read?

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Lending Support: Keeping Your End Users in Mind

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

Support, aid, assist, champion, encourage… however you put it, to support = to help. This is a subject I’m pretty passionate about. In fact, exceptional client service and support is our top priority here at Foundant, and we hire employees with this in mind. We can always train someone to use our grantmaking software, but it takes an ingrained sense of integrity for someone to truly “get” what it means to offer support that’s second to none.

But effective support doesn’t just live in the technology industry. Any organization can benefit from listening to their end user’s experience, asking how they can do better, making themselves available through the easiest means possible, and more. In the philanthropic sector, improving your level of support might mean saving valuable minutes, hours, or days for a nonprofit with limited resources.

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Leveraging Social Media: To Infinity and Beyond

By Erika McDaniel, Glenmede, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner

Tracking social media net­works and trends can be time-consuming even for experienced users, and likely more so for small-staffed organizations. Yet leveraging the right social media plat­forms in the right ways can lead to unprecedented levels of success. Initiatives by organizations such as the ALS Association (remember the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?), the Human Rights Campaign, and the Movember Foundation — each nimble enough to capitalize on expected and unexpected opportunities — have shown the degree to which social media campaigns can be powerful. 

Begin With the End: Determine Goals for Social Media

A social media strategy should be a component of the overall communications strategy, aligning an organization’s goals with tar­geted social media campaigns and frequent interactions. Common objectives include advocacy, information sharing, and recognizing philanthropic impact and milestone events. Different plat­forms bring distinct advantages based on particular goals. Twitter and Facebook can be useful to raise funds and promote activism, and YouTube and Vine tend to be effective for sharing successes and impact.

Last November, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with (RED) and mobile application Snapchat to raise awareness and funds to combat AIDS. For every Snapchat user who used one of the three “World AIDS Day” Geofilters in their “snaps,” the foundation donated $3 to (RED). This partnership and direct support for (RED) is part of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Initiative to “harness advances in science and technology to save lives.”

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Working in tandem: How foundations, big and small, can support community efforts, big and small

By Mike Bezos, Bezos Family Foundation

tandem bicycleHanging on the wall of our office entryway is a large six-by-three-foot print of a tandem bicycle. Each day, we walk by it and are reminded of our role as a foundation. We’re here to power and support our partners. Primarily we act as the rider in the back, but sometimes the best way to provide support is to drive. By working in tandem, we go farther together than we could alone. This picture of partnership grounds our grant investments, programs, and initiatives.

Throughout the foundation, we have a bias for action. In addition to managing our grant portfolio, when we see gaps in the field that need addressing, we’re motivated to act. This began 12 years ago with the creation of our first in-house program focused on youth leadership development, Bezos Scholars Program, and continues today with our latest initiative focused on early learning, Vroom.

Across the foundation, we use the same approach: Listen, start small, adapt, and stay close to the ground. 

Here’s a look at how this played out with Vroom.

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How Do We Know If We Are Making a Difference?

By Rob DiLeonardi, VNA Foundation

How do we know if our grants are making a difference? It’s a question that has probably haunted funders ever since the first grant was made.

Yet, it is a question with many answers, and no single answer that is best for everyone. To find out which of the many answers might best apply to your work, please consider joining me at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 National Conference next month, where I will be a presenter at a session entitled “Assessing Your Foundation’s Impact.”

“The question of how to assess impact it is exactly the type of topic that, 20+ years ago, I dreamed of being able to discuss with colleagues from other smaller foundations like my own.”

The topic of impact is near and dear to me, for two reasons. First, the foundation which I’ve had the privilege of helping lead for many years now, the VNA Foundation in Chicago, puts a high priority on ensuring that our grants make an impact—and we measure that impact in a variety of interesting ways.

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The Young Hearts of Louisiana

By Scott Brazda, The Stuller Family Foundation



In the face of tragedy, there has also been pure, philanthropic magic.

On August 12, the deluge began here in south Louisiana, and during the days that followed, there have been numbers that simply want to make you cry: 40,000 homes damaged. 20,000 people rescued. 6.9 trillion (no typo) gallons of rainfall. 13 deaths. $40 million in damages (and counting). From Lafayette to Baton Rouge, lives have been uprooted, treasured memories lost, and faith shaken to its very core.

Our United Ways, the American Red Cross, and other organizations were quickly mobilized, and immediate aid was sent to many in need. My TV station, KATC, teamed with four United Way chapters for ‘The Spirit of Acadiana Flood Relief Telethon’ and raised nearly $150,000 in only three hours, all because of the generous spirit of wonderful people, many of whom had already seen their ‘pre-flooding’ lives derailed by the downturn in the oil industry. People have given and given and given again, with money, food, shelter, labor, connections, and prayers.

It’s like, you know you love your community and its people, but you never really appreciate it until you see their hearts in action. And the people of south Louisiana have huge, caring hearts.

What has dazzled me even more is the volunteerism being exhibited by our young people.

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Creative Grantmaking Done Legally

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy 

Your foundation can be extremely imaginative while still keeping its grantmaking straightforward. Or it can take full advantage of the tax code’s flexibility to make grants that are more complicated—and still perfectly legal. Our goal is neither to encourage you to stay simple or to get complicated with your giving, but to help you be aware of all the strategies at your disposal.

In fact, private foundations can make grants to almost anyone or any organization, including other private foundations and tax-exempt organizations, such as 501(c)(4)s, 501(c)(5)s, and 501(c)(6)s. Private foundations also can make grants to foreign organizations, individuals, unincorporated groups, and for-profit entities. You must just follow two steps: the grant must be for a charitable activity or project, and you must follow appropriate procedures as determined by the IRS.

Do speak with an attorney before taking on any of the “somewhat complicated” or “complicated” grants below, because there are nuances that are beyond the scope of this article.

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