A Compass Only Works When You Trust It

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

In philanthropy, like in life, we have relatively little ability to control disruptions, internal or external, and the big changes they often portend.

Although we may anticipate an influx of assets upon the sale of a business, or predict the arrival of the next generation, most of us can’t really manage the exact timing and collateral effects of these events.

This begs the question, What defines how each of us reacts to disruption?

In a word: values. As we think about, worry about, and react to disruptions, we do so through the lens of our own values.

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Donor Intent: Building a Legacy of Impact Through Partnerships

By Charles H. Hamilton

Donor intent matters. A bevy of articles, consultants, and examples are available on how to craft donor intent statements and how to communicate them. Whatever the content and form, they should be dynamic, reciprocal learning tools that engage family members and beneficiaries. Extreme care needs to be applied so donor intent is not a one-way, power relationship. At its best and most effective, it is a shared connection that embodies cooperation, mutual exchange, and honest give-and-take.

Engaging grantees

Too often, donors (and philanthropoids) wrongly see no need to listen to grantees, heaven forbid. The idea of “strategic philanthropy” in practice too frequently fosters donor conceit and that stale old “I’ll go it alone because I know best” attitude. Donors are still so easily seduced by the hubris endemic in philanthropy, which “has no natural predators,” to use Tony Proscio’s wonderful phrase. This produces very poor relationships indeed. It usually generates anemic results and unsustainable change.

We live in a world of complex and evolving social needs. We are buffeted by rapidly changing methods to address these needs: some astonishing and some snake oil. These are knowledge problems no donor or foundation can surmount alone. Good intentions simply don’t reach impact without a cooperative commitment, humility, and hard work. The good news is that my experience has been that many donors and family foundations understand the difficult nature and remarkable ability of these reciprocal relationships with grantees to translate intent to meaningful societal impact.

Engaging different generations

Building reciprocal relationships with grantees is difficult. Consider, then, the terror and euphoria of different generations around the family kitchen table! This is a different kind of partnership of serial reciprocity, because the connection is passed from generation to generation. Each subsequent generation reaffirms, changes, adapts, and finally passes on again what becomes an ongoing family legacy.

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What the Law Requires When Making Grants

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

Many people say the U.S. government imposes too many regulations and too much paperwork on our economy. Although everyone doesn’t feel this way, it’s a pretty common refrain.

One arena very free of government requirements is foundation grants to public charities. Yet many people who work in foundations and many professional advisors to foundations—attorneys, accountants, and consultants—are not aware of this freedom.

Project Streamline, an initiative of PEAK Grantmaking, is trying to get the word out. Several years ago, Project Streamline worked with legal experts to find out exactly what the IRS requires private foundations to do when making grants.

The answer might be shocking.

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5 Tips for Using Simple Convenings for Intentional Learning

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group

This post originally appeared on Putnam Consulting Group’s Philanthropy 411 blog (July 3, 2017). Kris’s tips apply to all types of convenings, whether bringing together funders, grantees, or a mix.

My firm recently helped the David and Lucille Packard Foundation conduct a series of small gatherings of funders to discuss the Foundation’s learnings from a seven-year investment in summer learning. (For more information about that initiative, download the summary report we created, or visit the Foundation’s website.) While the convenings were specific to the summer learning topic, I observed several actions within them that I’d consider best practices for using small group gatherings for intentional learning, no matter what the subject.

1. Keep it casual and comfortable. Each convening was intentionally small—no more than 20 people—which allowed participants to gather around a common table. This fostered a sense of intimacy and a conversational tone. In addition, the Foundation provided a meal, either breakfast or lunch depending on the time of day, and allowed plenty of time for participants to enjoy it without feeling rushed. This also allowed foundation representatives in the room to catch up with old friends and meet new people, further building the sense of camaraderie and conversation.

2. Be clear that it’s a conversation, not a presentation. At the beginning of each gathering, the Packard staff made it clear that they had learned a great deal from listening to other funders, and they were hoping to continue that by having the funders in the room share their reactions and insights on the summer learning work. While the Packard staff did kick off the conversation with a quick overview of their initiative’s strategy, outcomes and lessons learned, the bulk of the agenda was allocated for questions and discussion. In fact, the agenda even included specific smaller one-to-one conversation time in which participants could dive into whatever aspects of the work caught their interest most—after which they shared highlights with the group.

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How You Can Discern and Inspire Promising New Ideas—Before Anyone Else

By John Richardson, Blackstone Ranch Institute

Many foundations avoid being the first funder of new initiatives. For the Blackstone Ranch Institute, being first-in is often the ultimate sweet spot.

For over a decade, our foundation has been placing early philanthropic investments in a broad range of new initiatives in the environment and sustainability fields. Very often they have been the first grant. The majority of them have grown into significant networks, campaigns, or organizational efforts that have moved those fields forward in meaningful and substantial ways. During that time, many have asked how we know how to choose the right grantees, and how we know whether or not their proposed initiatives have real promise.

Whereas part of our ability comes from experience and intuition (as in, does this feel right?), a number of considerations go into our initial assessment of opportunity that allow us to base an intuition upon a solid foundation. Our hunches, in that sense, are carefully calculated hunches.

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Why Invest in Volunteer Engagement?

By Jane Leighty Justis, The Leighty Foundation

Foundations large and small are always looking for leverage. Where and how can we invest our limited assets in ways that will produce the best returns? Will organizations we funded in the past survive these times of shrinking resources and growing needs? As investors in the nonprofit sector seeking innovative opportunities to maximize our efforts, we must challenge ourselves to better support and build organizational capacity.

A logical and often overlooked solution is supporting effective volunteer engagement and the infrastructure that sustains it.

When creating our family foundation, we agreed that supporting organizations in building their capacity to engage volunteers would increase their ability to accomplish their missions, and, therefore, their long-term sustainability. This strategy has provided a tremendous return on our investment.

For example, in 2011 the Pikes Peak Volunteer Engagement Initiative sought to increase the effectiveness of nonprofit volunteer engagement strategies in the Colorado Springs, CO area. The goal was to enhance organizations’ capacity to fulfill their missions and meet community needs. The Leighty Foundation funded and led a five-year Initiative to increase the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the region. We invested in individual organizations through Volunteer Impact Grants, in the community through securing experts to provide training support to dozens of organizations, and in the future through our support of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence as host of the ongoing work.

In its first phase, the Initiative convened and connected board and executive leaders, staff members, and volunteers to identify needs and issues related to volunteer engagement. In addition, we fostered peer exchange and learnings through a community-wide symposium on volunteer engagement, seminars, and reflection gatherings.

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Embracing Our Foundation’s Role as a Convenor

By Mickey Gula, Buhl Regional Health Foundation

The Buhl Regional Health Foundation is a new health conversion foundation in Western Pennsylvania, situated on the Ohio state line.

We convened a daylong community health forum last fall to connect community leaders and organizations, explore our evolving region, and identify opportunities to improve the region’s well-being.

Over the past 30 years or more, our area has seen many changes, including the decline of the quality of life for many. We are members of the Rust Belt and live within an area of the country that has seen steep economic decline. Generations had worked in area steel mills to support their families, but our young people have moved away to find work and a better standard of living. Our county has one of the oldest populations in the state.

One of my early steps as executive director was to reach out to other conversion foundations in Pennsylvania. The state has nearly 40 similar foundations that fund a number of initiatives: health access, mental health, healthy eating, active living, and meeting the needs of the aging. I learned that all work closely with their local nonprofit agencies to engage them in conversation, educational efforts, and collaborations to improve the health and well-being of their communities outside of traditional health care settings. The connection these foundations have with grantees also assists them in finding areas of focus that can make an impact in their communities.

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Dispatch From the Mission Investing Institute: Measurement

Originally published by Mission Investors Exchange (June 2017)

This newsletter is coming to you from Troy, Michigan, where we are on day three of our over-subscribed Mission Investing Institute. Scores of foundation leaders and mission investing experts have been convening here at The Kresge Foundation* headquarters since Monday, focused on how to activate around impact investing.

There have been many themes emerging throughout the Institute. One of the most popular among newcomers and seasoned investors alike is measurement. How do you measure impact, both social and financial? Must we agree to tradeoffs on mission or money? What standards are there? How can we respond to skeptics within our foundation? And so on.

“People are getting stuck when it comes to measurement,” founder and senior advisor of ORS Impact Jane Reisman, Ph.D., told attendees. “The good news is that slowly but surely, forward-thinking foundations are beginning to report out on their experiences and returns, with help from intermediaries. Their trials are becoming models for others seeking justification for their impact investments, as they build a case for full board support.”

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Patient Philanthropy: How a Small Foundation Got Big Results

This article was originally published by NPQ online, on April 26, 2017,
. Used with permission.

By Mark Gunther 

Philanthropy often seems to be reinventing itself. Strategic plans are undertaken; old priorities get restated; new buzzwords develop. While there is an ongoing argument about how much this kind of churn may actually help the ultimate beneficiaries, a small foundation doesn’t often take the time or budget for that kind of contemplation. Yet small size can enable a certain flexibility and responsiveness that can drive change perhaps even more effectively than the most competent big budget efforts.

At the Eva Gunther Foundation (EGF), a public charity founded by my wife Anne Krantz and myself in 1999, the vision is to give other girls access to experiences similar to those Eva had. Many highly capable girls are financially unable to have life-broadening experiences after school or in the summer, and we wanted to make that possible for some teenage girls. We established two funds: The Program Grant funded scholarships to grantee programs, and the Fellowship allowed a girl nominated by a mentor or teacher to do something specific she wants to do but cannot afford.

This mission brought us into contact with the savvy and dedicated leaders of the many grassroots social service agencies that provide direct services to girls and young women. It was a good match. We wanted Eva’s love and passion—her presence—to infuse everything we did. We wanted relationships with our grantees (our trustees would make site visits, serving as informal program officers). We wanted the grant process to be easy. We wanted individual girls to be helped. Our communication was quite transparent regarding all of this, which was gratefully received by the agencies we supported. “I don’t have to explain, ‘Why Girls?’ to you,” we often were told. “You get it.” And we did. We got them, and they got us.

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Capacity problems? Interns to the rescue!

By Jacob Sharp, Foundant Technologies

The following article first appeared on Foundant’s blog (March 8, 2017). It is reposted here with permission from Foundant, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner.

As your organization grows and opportunities become more numerous, capacity problems will make themselves known. This is true in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and isn’t something you can power through with talent and gumption–even if that’s what got you this far.

This is a tipping point. You need general operating support, but you also can’t get too crazy, or you might cause your accountant undue stress. Do you hire a new full-time employee? Put out the word for volunteers? Lean on your board for increased support? It’s a question your organization will have to answer sooner or later.

Speaking from experience

Foundant faced this same fork in the road about two years ago. We chose to implement a program that simultaneously solved our capacity problem and continually enriches our local community: student internships. Ambitious, hardworking, and looking to prove themselves, college students are a valuable resource for all types of organizations. And we’re lucky to be in the same community as Montana State University, where so many bright students have chosen to further their education.

The average 20-year-old probably knows more about current technology than someone who graduated in IT ten years ago, and they adapt to new technology quickly. Using the Foundant Client Services team as an example, students can be up and running in our software within two weeks, which leaves our more experienced Client Success Managers time to focus on bigger picture items for our clients, while our student team handles the day-to-day support questions that pop up.

Foundant interns work in our Client Services team, Operations team, and Marketing team. And we continually look for new ways we can utilize their youth, energy, and natural curiosity to build capacity and strengthen the Foundant core team.

Related: What I Learned Interning at a Small Foundation >>

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