Top Posts of 2013

Trends, risk taking, leadership, investments, impact. On these topics and many more, it was our pleasure to participate in the year’s conversations about small-staff philanthropy’s power and promise. Here are some of the year’s most popular posts:

New to PhilanthroFiles this year? Don’t miss these standouts from 2012:

Making an Impact on a Very Small Budget
What the Law Requires When Making Grants: The Answer May Surprise
Grantee Capacity Building: First Do No Harm
Why We Started an Internship at Our Foundation

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Happy New Year from all of us at ASF!

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Testing Our Intentions Against Our Outcomes: And Then, What’s Next?

By Suzanne Skees, Skees Family Foundation

Skees Family Foundation launched in 2004, began grantmaking in 2005, and truly “went public” with a website in 2011. Now, sitting exposed—with our tiny finances, grantee lists, and heartfelt stories posted for all to see—keeps us honest. Our tax returns show we’ve funded some of the most innovative yet practical programs in the U.S., working here and abroad to extend education, jobs, health, and peace. They also show our learning curve shift from throwing dollars at causes to investing in systems change.

Poonam's family jumped from one to three meals a day when she got her new—permanent—job with Upaya Social Ventures, a nonprofit that creates employment for India's ultra-poor women, (c) Upaya Social Ventures

Poonam’s family jumped from one to three meals a day when she got her new—permanent—job with Upaya Social Ventures, a nonprofit that creates employment for India’s ultra-poor women, (c) Upaya Social Ventures

We’ve made some audacious claims on our website:

  • Intention matters;
  • We can make a difference with a microloan, a scholarship, a check, or an hour; and
  • Every small act of care ripples out far beyond what we can see. 

Yet this remains an inequitable world, where our family got a chance at college and paychecks while 100 million global students lack funding for tertiary school and some countries experience as high as 77% unemployment rates.

So this year, we hired a smart, objective, data-digging firm, Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, to conduct an impact study, to test our intentions against outcomes.

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For All That You Do, Hats Off to You

This giving season, Exponent Philanthropy celebrated the impact of our members’ giving by launching a Twitter campaign that ran from National Philanthropy Day (November 15) through Giving Tuesday (December 3). Members nominated their grantees, and we tweeted about them to our 2,600+ Twitter followers.

Diverse causes and communities were featured, illustrating the range of important services and innovative solutions that ASF members and their grantees partner to provide every day.

We were delighted to spotlight 22 Exponent Philanthropy member grantees to our Twitter followers, including these:

  • Hats off to @VNAFoundation and Thresholds Women Veterans Health Program for tackling PTSD
  • Hats off to 3rd Creek Fnd & Thriive for bettering their community through entrepreneurship 
  • Hats off to @EEEfoundation proudly supporting Youth Guidance, “helping kids who really need it”

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The Foundation as “Team Family”

By Page Snow, Foundation Source

Exponent Philanthropy is pleased to feature the next post in a multipart series from our colleagues at Foundation Source, a leading provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. Foundation Source shares our commitment to helping donors maximize their dollars and time. Read the previous post in the series

One of the most compelling motivations for establishing private foundations is the potential to unite families, providing numerous opportunities to discuss shared values and collaborate on giving back. In fact, in a survey of Foundation Source clients, 82% of respondents told us that engaging their families in their foundations was just as important as having philanthropic impact.

At this time of year, we envision our offspring happily tucking into the foundation’s agenda with the same enthusiasm as the holiday meal. Unfortunately, getting everyone involved is not always as easy as pumpkin pie.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome the challenges of making your foundation a family affair. Continue reading

Just Released: Small-Staff Foundation Benchmarks

By Henry Berman, ASF

survey report cover

Last week at ASF, we released the results of our biennial survey of member foundations, the 2013 Foundation Operations and Management Report.

For more than a decade, the Foundation Operations and Management Report has been a powerful tool for foundations, advisors, researchers, policymakers, and media—telling a story of small-staff philanthropy that is lean, agile, responsive, passionate, and personal.

Based on responses from 762 ASF member foundations, this year’s report provides critical data about how small-staff foundations operate and the important impact they have on communities around the world. The 54-page report covers administration, investments, governance, and grantmaking among ASF members.

Here are a few highlights: Continue reading

The Pulse: Exploring Nonprofits’ Relationship With Government

By Andy Carroll, ASF

Every 2 to 3 weeks, I explore trends influencing small-staff philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media.

In this edition, I focus on the relationship between the nonprofit and government sectors. The relationship is multifaceted, encompassing much more than incentives to give. Note: I use “nonprofit” to describe both nonprofits and philanthropies. 

Government as Catalyst of Private Giving

The federal government’s role in providing incentives for giving is followed closely by the press, in part because the charitable deduction has broad appeal. In recent news, two members of the powerful Senate Finance Committee—a Republican and a Democrat—urged lawmakers and the President to protect the full value and scope of the charitable deduction. The President has proposed capping the deduction as part of efforts to cut the deficit and reform tax laws.

Government as Regulator

The government’s role as regulator of nonprofits also is covered closely. Continue reading

Why Overhead Is a Bad Word – Part One

By Sara Beggs, Exponent Philanthropy

When we focus solely or predominantly on overhead, we can create what the Stanford Social Innovation Review has called “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” We starve charities of the freedom they need to best serve the people and communities they are trying to serve. —

Recently, I had a discussion about nonprofit effectiveness with my dad, a former Fortune 500 business executive and venture capital enthusiast. I was surprised to find someone so deliberate in his assessment of effectiveness in other realms to be so quick to judge a nonprofit’s effectiveness on a single factor: its amount of overhead. And yet he was. For him, the lower the overhead, the more effective the nonprofit.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone in his thinking. The nonprofit sector is plagued by this standard, but why? Why might we all be tempted to buy into the faulty logic that low overhead = effective nonprofit? Continue reading

A Family Foundation Convenes a County

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

Rural Harford County, MD

Rural Harford County, MD

What would it look like for a family foundation to convene citizens of an entire county to develop a vision for the future?

This is what Exponent Philanthropy member The Dresher Foundation did in November at Connect Harford, in partnership with Maryland’s Harford Community College. I attended the event to witness this striking example of leadership by a small-staffed foundation. The Dresher Foundation has about $50 million in assets and employs one staff person.

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To Our Contributors, Thank You

Since launching PhilanthroFiles in spring 2012, ASF has been fortunate to round out posts by our staff with the expertise and on-the-ground insights of dozens of ASF members and colleagues.

This Thanksgiving season, we are particularly grateful for this year’s contributing members and colleagues.

To our contributors and our readers, Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at ASF! Continue reading

Private, Not Isolated

By Andrew Schulz, Foundation Source

ASF is pleased to feature the second post in a multipart series from our colleagues at Foundation Source, a leading provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. Foundation Source shares our commitment to helping donors maximize their dollars and time. Read the first post in the series

For as long as I’ve been involved with philanthropy, people have talked about how important privacy is to private foundations. Not privacy in the sense of secrecy, but freedom from the pressures that other sectors face that often prevent them from tackling persistent (and often controversial) issues facing society.

Foundations, shielded from the constant focus on quarterly profits, election cycles, or annual fundraising goals, can take risks, pursue goals that take time, and work to identify and mitigate causes rather respond to symptoms. Nearly everyone agrees that some freedom from these influences is part of the secret sauce that makes private philanthropy work.

But just because private foundations have, and should have, the right to be independent does not mean they should constantly exercise that right. If they do, the result is not emboldening autonomy that enables effective pursuit of the common good, but isolation. When no one is looking over your shoulder, it’s too easy to become complacent, tolerate mediocrity, and lose impact.

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