Respect Tradition and Look Towards the Future

By Jack Siragusa, Siragusa Foundation

Jack-SiragusaBack in 2002, my beloved alma mater, the University of Miami, began a campaign centered on their highly successful football program. The title read: “Respect Tradition and Look Towards the Future.”

The slogan was in homage to the star players and coaches that took a small private university to a nationally recognized football powerhouse with 5 national titles in the span of 20 years. The hope was to continue building upon the success of years past while growing and evolving with the ever-changing landscape of college football.

Fast forward 10 years, the slogan still resonates with me. Not for football though, but for foundations.

For those fortunate enough to be involved with a family foundation or a non-profit that gives back in any way, the story is often similar. An individual or group starts the foundation with a vision of the greater good and an inherent mission. Over time, as the foundation grows and the originator phases out, there are new decision makers that enter the arena. Continue reading

Philanthropy and Complex Problems—Being Real, and Stepping Into Leadership

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

Problems caused by divisiveness, political gridlock, or competing interests and values often slow – or stop – the work of funders and their grantees. Examples of complex problems include government cuts to human service programs, which only exacerbate needs and costs, and overlapping and duplicate services by nonprofits.

Foundations are uniquely positioned in our society to take on complex problems. This is what a classic article called “Leading Boldly” by Ronald Heifetz, John Kania, and Mark Kramer reminds us. Let’s take a look at the ideas and opportunities it offers.

Heifitz, Kania, and Kramer divide problems into two categories: technical vs. adaptive. Technical problems are well defined, have solutions that are known, and implementation that is clear. Technical problems can be addressed by a single organization. Adaptive problems, by contrast, do not have known solutions. Adaptive problems require innovation and learning among the interested parties. And, for solutions to be implemented, they require a change in attitudes, priorities, and behavior. No single entity has the authority to impose a solution.

For foundations to address complex, adaptive problems, the authors lay out a set of actions; these include:

  • Spotlighting the problem to get people’s attention, and framing it so the opportunities and challenges are understandable
  • Helping the stakeholders clarify what matters most to them, and identify trade-offs
  • Encouraging, cajoling, pressuring the parties to work on solutions together, and overcome conflicting values and beliefs
  • Provoking debate and consideration of new approaches
  • Providing incentives or pressure to keep the parties working – using the foundation’s leverage

Continue reading

Giving Circle Practices Hands-on Grantmaking

Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, Volunteer Project

Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, Volunteer Project, 2012.
Photo by Bronwyn Belling.

By Sharon Stewart, Anne Arundel Women Giving Together

Anne Arundel Women Giving Together (AAWGT), a women’s giving circle based in the Annapolis, Maryland area, provides annual grants for local programs supporting women and families. By far the most popular activity for our members is their involvement in the grantmaking process.

AAWGT has built a strong, professionally-run grantmaking process that provides hands-on involvement for our members and grantees. We are grateful to our host organization, the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, and some of our members with extensive grantmaking experience and/or who have family foundations, for helping to refine our grantmaking. Continue reading

Harnessing the Power of Questions in Your Philanthropy

By Danielle Oristian York, 21/64

Danielle will be a featured speaker on the ASF webinar, Multiple Generations at the Table, on Wednesday, December 12 at 1 p.m. ET.

In philanthropy, wisdom equals impact. And those philanthropic institutions with the largest impact are those with the strongest, clearest mission. Yet creating that singular vision is no easy task. Many foundations are led by a diverse group of executives and trustees, all coming from different backgrounds and generations, maintaining their own unique viewpoints and values.

Multiple Generations in Philanthropy

We at 21/64, a nonprofit consulting firm that focuses on multi-generational philanthropy, have found that the simple power of asking questions can help organize these voices into a clear and meaningful vision. Continue reading

In Fiscal Cliff Negotiations, Look at the Whole Picture

U.S. Capitol

By Henry Berman, ASF

We are sharing the following letter with members of the Association of Small Foundations today. We welcome your thoughts and opinions in the comments section. As a diverse community of philanthropists, it is important we share our thinking with one another.

Dear Colleagues,

Whereas the television has quieted down post-election—the seemingly non-stop advertisements for candidates, ballot questions, and initiatives have ended—conversations about the “fiscal cliff” have, in the same way, started to overwhelm news channels, newspapers, and social media.

For many in the philanthropic sector, the charitable deduction has been the focus of the conversations. Lately I’ve participated in and listened to numerous discussions and debates about the charitable deduction and the pros and cons of it being reduced or capped. Well-informed and well-meaning people make cases for both sides of the argument.

There is an opportunity today at 3PM EST for you to hear from the White House in a Fiscal Cliff Conference Call With Foundation Leaders. Officials from the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, and Office of Public Engagement will discuss the charitable deduction in the context of the debate over how to find a balanced solution to the deficit challenges facing the nation. Continue reading

Making an Impact on a Very Small Budget

By Celeste Land, Land Family Foundation Trust

Our little family foundation is very, very small. Last year, we gave away $50,000 in grants, which is not enough money to solve any of the world’s problems.

Our family is also extremely diverse. We are scattered across the country and are interested in a very wide range of charitable causes. This makes focusing our efforts by geography or subject area extremely difficult at best, and also limits how much we can give to a single organization. As a result, last year we awarded grants of $500 to $10,000 to 12 different nonprofits in five different states.

Nevertheless, we are making an impact in our respective communities with our small targeted grants. How do we do it? Continue reading

Save the Charitable Tax Deduction from the Fiscal Cliff

By Floyd Keene, The Triple EEE Foundation

Currently, the charitable tax deduction (CTD) is under attack. As our nation approaches the “fiscal cliff,” limiting the CTD for wealthy taxpayers is one part of a possible fiscal cliff remedy.

  • Recently on national TV, Sen. John McCain said he is “very much opposed” to a tax raise but would support closing loopholes such as the CTD.
  •  For years, the Obama administration has submitted budget proposals that limit charitable deductions for persons above the 28% tax bracket.

Wait! Is this really happening? The Democrats and at least one major Republican agreeing on something? It could happen. And the victim would be the American people (giver and receiver alike) that the CTD serves.


There is a new reality in our nation that is likely to continue no matter how the fiscal cliff is vaulted, and no matter which party wins future elections:

  1. There will be less government spending on social programs, and
  2. There will be an ever-increasing need for social programs, caused by a slow-growth economy and aging population base

These are truisms. Together they create an environment where there is a greater need than ever before for private social spending. Reducing the CTD in such an environment is, put simply, an irrational public policy motivated by political compromise rather than logical thinking. Continue reading

Foundations and Lobbying: Sorting Out the Do’s and Don’ts

By Gerald P. McCarthy, Virginia Environmental Endowment

“If your foundation is not engaging in public policy, you could be missing out on one of the most effective tools in your foundation toolbox,” said Jerry McCarthy in his first post on PhilanthroFiles. Here he takes a look at the Do’s and Don’ts of lobbying.

“Can we lobby?” “What are the rules about foundations and lobbying?”

These are such scary questions for some foundations that the answers aren’t even pursued. And no wonder; it is part of the U.S. Tax Code, which ranks as one of the most complex compilations of rules ever fashioned. Thus, many foundations prefer not to deal with this. They are missing out on some of the most effective work they can accomplish.

Here are some ways you can engage. Continue reading

Philanthropy and Complex Problems, Part I: Being Real about What is Daunting

By Andy Carroll, ASF

In the wake of the recent election campaign, I’ve been thinking about our country being divided, and things being “stuck.” We know that by collaborating we could accomplish big things, but we still don’t come together. Conflict, disagreement, and gridlock are common in our national discourse, at a community level, and also within organizations, friendships, and families.

Sometimes it seems like humanity, in the words of one popular songwriter, is a “bunch of whining, fighting shmoes.”

The important work of many small foundations–to build opportunity, promote health, reduce hunger and suffering, and protect the environment—is often undercut or compromised by disagreements between competing factions. And divisiveness is only one among a set of “complex problems” that ensnarl the work of foundations and the nonprofits they support. Another complex problem is culture that is embedded and resistant to change.

I don’t think complex problems are acknowledged openly enough. Many funders who keep asking how they can have more impact eventually come up against challenges that are too big for them to solve alone. Continue reading

It’s About Trust: Balancing Relationship with Risk in Social Entrepreneurship

By Suzanne Skees, Skees Family Foundation

The Skees Family Foundation and Th3rd Plateau co-hosted a dine-around for social entrepreneurs and their funders at the Exponent Philanthropy 2012 National Conference last month. We had an “oversold” turnout of about forty highly engaged professionals, with a perfect balance: half funders and half entrepreneurs. Even our organic, locally sourced, family-style dinner was cooked by an Opportunity Fund microentrepreneur. The food and conversation surpassed our wildest hopes—and the input from attendees got me thinking even more deeply about risk and trust, and why we fund very early-stage social entrepreneurs.

Upaya Social Ventures

Our India client Draupadi; two neighbors sharing advice on their new jobs; ultra-poor kaccha house in Godha Village. (c) Upaya Social Ventures

The Indian sun broils down on our heads near the thatched-roof hut where 60-year-old Draupadi stands wringing her slim hands. She’s complaining about her arthritis and her three goats.

I’m in Uttar Pradesh, visiting a social enterprise we fund through U.S.-based Upaya Social Ventures. Draupadi’s skeptical of us because of her experience with local milkmen who charge high-interest loans and pay fluctuating prices. She’s stressed, because none of her new goats are milking. “Don’t worry,” her neighbor Saraswati assures her, “the milkman pays you only 15 rupees, but this company pays much more.” She explains that Draupadi will receive a steady weekly salary all year, through the milking and dry seasons.

As we do here in the U.S., Draupadi takes her friend’s word for it, and she takes a measured risk. After all, she used to get only a few days’ manual labor per month, hauling stones, bricks, or water at construction sites. “This job is better,” she admits. Continue reading