Put Your Plans into Action – Not on the Shelf

By Jeffrey M. Glebocki, The Raymond John Wean Foundation

I once sat on the board of a nonprofit organization that had undertaken what eventually became an award-winning planning process for its property holdings. This effort engaged all staff and board and generated lots of creative energy from the surrounding community.

Within a couple months after completing the plan, staff recommended a capital improvement inconsistent with the still-fresh blueprint for the property. A lively board conversation ensued – and funds were eventually approved for a project that fell outside of the approved plan!

How does your foundation avoid falling into a behavior more common in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector than we would like to admit? Continue reading

Using Technology to Make Collaboration Easier

By Akilah Massey, ASF

Most small foundations are very familiar with the concept of collaboration. It’s often the only way the work gets done. Without a large staff, communicating and working effectively with staff, board members, and advisors is vital.

Even if the need to work collaboratively is not new, there are many forms of technology – some new, some more established – that can allow you to use the power of the Web to work more collaboratively both with board members across the country and colleagues right in your office.

Imagine that you have a grantee who faxes a document to your office where it is copied and later sent to board members for review. Perhaps you can do away with the fax machine and use a fax-to-email service. These services provide your organization with a unique fax number you can use to receive faxes, convert them to PDF documents, and send them directly to your inbox. Then you can store the documents digitally and email them to interested parties within minutes – all while eliminating the need for additional paper. Some grants management software systems have this feature built right in.

Board portals are another tool that can make collaboration simpler. These were recently a popular topic on the ASF Discussion List, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re extremely secure and were created with geographically-dispersed boards in mind. Most board portals allow for central organization of important documents and enable individual board members to review board packets and even take notes online as they prepare for board meetings. Check the ASF Discussion List Archives to learn about ASF member experiences with board portals.

These are just a few ideas, and they may not be the right ones for your foundation. Maybe you’ve started using Skype to hold occasional virtual board meetings. Maybe you’re a little more technologically savvy and have jumped into using collaborative documents or a shared online workspace.

I’d love to hear your stories about how you’re using technology – big and small, simple and more complex – to move the work of your foundation online. What tools have worked well for you? What would you recommend to other small foundations?

Akilah Massey

Program Manager Akilah Massey works with ASF members and other partners on ASF local programs, small hosted gatherings around the country. She joined the staff of ASF in 2005 and enjoys talking to ASF members about the personal nature of small foundation philanthropy. Akilah is preparing a session on Technology Planning for small foundations, to be held at the 2012 National Conference.

Moved by Site Visit, Foundation Creates Mobile Dental Clinic

By Mary Harp-Jirschele, J. J. Keller Foundation

When I attended the Association of Small Foundations’ 2010 National Conference in Austin, Texas, little did I know that I’d return to Northeastern Wisconsin with an idea that would change the face of dental care for thousands of needy children in our region.

During the ASF conference, I participated in the half-day site visit opportunity, and we traveled by bus to a variety of unique programs that benefited low-income people, which is the hallmark of the foundation I represent, the J. J. Keller Foundation, based in Neenah, WI.

One of those site visits took us to a school where a brightly colored bus was parked – not to transport children to and from school, but a unique bus that was fully loaded with dental equipment and traveled from school to school, serving the dental needs of needy children. St. David’s Foundation in Austin was credited with the gift, and I scooped up the materials and brought them home with me…and 18 months later, there is a big, blue, state-of-the-art mobile dental clinic making its way throughout our region!

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Learning New Tricks

By Linda Zimmerman, Exponent Philanthropy

I still own a typewriter. I still use a calculator. The only thing I can do with my phone is talk into it. And I’ve held the same job for more than a dozen years. So by now you’ve figured out that I’m not a millennial or from Generation X!

In the years that I’ve handled Exponent Philanthropy’s membership, I’ve seen the resources I have to do my work change from a PC software program on my desk to a database I access through the Internet. When I began in 1997, I didn’t have an e-mail address, and an Exponent Philanthropy website was still a dream.

I know from personal experience the changes that have taken place at Exponent Philanthropy over the years. And so do many of Exponent Philanthropy’s members.

Nearly 50% of Exponent Philanthropy’s foundation members joined at least 10 years ago. And more than 60% of those who joined in 1995, Exponent Philanthropy’s first year, are still members.

Although the Exponent Philanthropy of 2012 is a far cry in some respects from the organization they joined then, it’s clear that they continue to find the relationship a valuable one. One reason may be that, although they’re doing the same work, the world around them has changed, and Exponent Philanthropy has been changing with it.

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The Challenge of Measuring What Matters Most

By Ken Berger, Charity Navigator

Four years ago when I began working at Charity Navigator, I went on a “listening tour” to see what concerned experts in the field about our rating system. The fundamental concern expressed by many was that we were not factoring in what matters most: the results (especially outcomes) of the work of the charities we analyze. That feedback, among other things, led us to make a commitment to upgrade our rating system over time in the direction they had counseled.

After a few years of research, funded by one large and a number of small foundations, we came to the conclusion that there is a fundamental problem with the experts’ suggestion. Essentially, for the vast majority of charitable causes, there is no publically available information on results. In other words, most charities either do not currently compile such information or if they do, they are unwilling to share it publically.

The traditional nonprofit culture is to not make waves (unless you are an advocacy organization) and keep a low profile. Nonprofits don’t want to give stakeholders any reason to weaken their trust in them. Nor do they want to give competitors any leg up by learning sensitive information about the vulnerabilities of internal operations. Therefore, the increasing emphasis on transparency about performance is resisted by many.

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Beyond Administrative Costs: A Better Way to Judge a Charity

By Patricia Sinay, Community Investment Strategies 

As a program officer, I can remember the hours of sitting with our grants committee reviewing proposals. It seemed that we always spent a large amount of time reviewing each applicant’s budget and other financial information. How I would have loved to include Jack Shakely’s LA Times editorial, The Worst Way to Judge a Charity, in the committee’s orientation process. 

As Shakely explains, “Low administrative costs could indicate prudence and sound judgment at a charity, but they could just as easily indicate inadequate staffing, insufficient salaries or, shall we say, fudging.” His well thought-out arguments, I am sure, would have helped the grants committee members understand that the numbers do not tell the whole story.

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What the Law Requires When Making Grants: The Answer May Surprise

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, a collaborative effort between grantmaker and grantee associations, is trying to get the word out. A few 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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How Employees Strengthened a Corporate Foundation’s Grantmaking

By Juanita Garcia, GenCorp Foundation

I don’t know about you, but I find my company’s employees are my best ambassadors. Employees at Aerojet are proud of the work they do – developing propulsion systems that power our nation’s exploration of space and help keep our military men and women safe in defense of our country.

As director of the company’s corporate foundation, employees often introduce me to nonprofit groups and projects that could benefit from GenCorp Foundation grants. Our foundation’s primary giving focus is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education to ensure our nation’s future workforce is equipped to perform in the 21st century’s technology marketplace.

The foundation funds in 12 diverse communities across the United States – and each of our Aerojet sites has a distinct corporate culture. Yet common at each site, I find our employees are a generous group – giving of their time and talent in a variety of ways through volunteering in their communities and opening their wallets for our annual workplace giving campaign.

Because the GenCorp Foundation mission is focused on education, foundation funding does not often support organizations and causes in which our employees are personally interested. So in 2010, the GenCorp Foundation board approved allocating funding for each Aerojet site to use in conjunction with employee volunteer efforts. Dubbed Aerojet in Action, local volunteer committees organize team volunteer activities and are empowered to give a grant to support the school or nonprofit where Aerojet employees provided much-needed volunteer power.

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What’s on your foundation’s to-don’t list?

By Kathryn Petrillo-Smith, Exponent Philanthropy

Exponent Philanthropy’s Foundation Guidebook talks about the importance of setting grant guidelines and what to include. Among the common components listed are “Grant restrictions (who and what you do not fund).” I’ve had many grantmakers tell me that being explicit about what they do not fund is just as important and valuable as explaining what they do fund, saving everyone time and energy.

I think that is why, when I read Daniel Pink’s The Flip Manifesto, 16 Counterintuitive Ideas About Motivation, Innovation, and Leadership, creating a to-don’t list resonated so strongly with me. Just like with grant guidelines, when organizing my own work, why shouldn’t I be explicit about what I will and will not do?

Pink credits “the two most influential management gurus of the past 30 years,” Tom Peters and Jim Collins, with coming up with the idea of a to-don’t or stop-doing list. Of them, and of the list itself, Pink writes:

The key insight of both Peters and Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it’s only by taking away what doesn’t matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.

That’s why a couple of years ago I began using a hybrid of the Peters and Collins techniques—a combo of a to-don’t and stop-doing list. I revisit the list more than once a year, but I don’t craft a new one every day. Instead,  I post it on the wall next to my desk where it’s always in view and revise it when circumstances demand.

What would be on your to-don’t list?

Kathryn Petrillo Smith

Kathryn Petrillo-Smith is Exponent Philanthropy’s Managing Director. In this role, Kathryn is a member of Exponent Philanthropy’s senior leadership team and works to align Exponent Philanthropy’s operations with its strategy. Kathryn oversees Exponent Philanthropy’s Member Services, Membership, and Operations teams and its financial management.

Society and Philanthropy – A New Paradigm

By Floyd Keene, The Triple EEE Foundation

“Paradigm” is an overused word. However, there is no question that today a new paradigm is staring U.S. society squarely in the face. This new paradigm encompasses:

  • Less government spending on social programs  (no matter which party wins this fall’s and future elections)
  • An ever-increasing need for social programs, caused by a slow-growth economy and aging population
  • The need for American philanthropy to find new ways to address the above truisms.

Yes, over the next ten years American philanthropy must change. If it doesn’t, then it will be missing an amazing opportunity to serve the American people. Philanthropy should act as a wonderful orchestra, composed of talented and diverse individuals, providing needed sustenance to society.

However, all too often in the past, philanthropy has been reactive to specific social needs, satisfied with feeling good about itself. Instead, philanthropy must find innovative ways to utilize its existing resources more effectively, so as to significantly aid society, the economy, and most importantly, its own intrinsic and diverse social values.

The coming change in American philanthropy will likely involve the following:


1.  Future philanthropy will involve an ever-increasing transformation towards organizational entities that are created both to make a reasonable return on investment and serve specific societal needs. In short, the line between for-profit and non-profit entities will be blurred.

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