Four Things to Know About a Recent White House Convening on Community Foundation Giving

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

This past #GivingTuesday (December 2), CEO Henry Berman and I represented Exponent Philanthropy at a daylong White House event Community Foundations: Vital Leadership for America’s Future. In the 100th year of the existence of community foundations, it may have marked the start of a new era.

Here are four takeaways from the event:

  1. Setting the tone for the next century of community foundation giving, Jonathan Greenblatt, special assistant to the president and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, extended an olive branch to the tight-knit family of community foundations. He also issued an informal mandate to community foundation leaders—ideas I believe hold true for any philanthropist committed to our collective future:
  • Embrace your role as a leader at all levels: local, state, and national.
  • Lean into advocacy; flex your muscles and let your representatives know what matters to you and your community.
  • Take risks—you have the freedom to do so.
  • Conduct R&D for social services; let the public sector follow in your wake.
  • Help our citizens and representatives better understand philanthropy.
  1. The event centered on relationship-building. Acknowledging missed opportunities come and gone, the White House warmly welcomed nearly 100 community foundation leaders, leaders of regional associations of grantmakers, and philanthropy groups including GuideStar, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, and Exponent Philanthropy, among others.

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The Pulse: Unexpected Givers, 2014’s Big Ideas

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

I regularly explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series

Wealthy Donors Seek Long-Term Solutions to Poverty, Hardship

The desire by donors to address the root causes of poverty and economic hardship is a trend that has only intensified during an era of recessions, economic crises, and rising income inequality, according to a study tracking giving by ultra-high net worth individuals by Wealth-X and Arton Capital. The authors of the report write, “It is not enough to help fund new schools, fund access to digital technology or provide sufficient nourishment if it does not lead to longer-term, lasting improvements to socioeconomic conditions. Individuals with education but no opportunities will not be lifted out of poverty: they need access to opportunities for employment in wealth-generating projects.” 

New Study Finds Unexpected Source of Giving: Young Women

A new report by Indiana University contributes insight into women’s philanthropy, an arena of giving growing in scale, scope, and influence. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Drew Lindsay writes,

“Conventional wisdom says young Americans are not as generous as older generations, particularly if they’re not religious. That may hold true for most donors, says a new report, but younger women appear to be bucking the trend. Millennial and Generation X women who are single and unaffiliated with a religion give two-and-a-half times more money to charity than their older, similarly secular counterparts, according to the report, which looked exclusively at unmarried donors. Their giving also doubles that of peers who have loose ties to a religion.”

Big Ideas in Social Change

Journalist Tina Rosenberg looks across dozens of solutions to social problems profiled during the year in the New York Times “Fixes” column, and identifies three big themes.

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The Power of Our Peer Coaching Circle

By Johanna Anderson, The Belk Foundation; Janis Reischmann, Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation; Daphne Rowe, Donley Foundation; and Lindsey Stammerjohn, John Gogian Family Foundation

Over the past year, four of us—all women who work as executive directors of foundations with few staff—have been participating in a peer coaching group that grew out of Exponent Philanthropy’s Master Juggler Executive Institute. Because it has had such a meaningful impact on us, we wanted to share some thoughts about this experience and encourage others to consider forming your own peer learning group. 

We believe this is a wonderful and blessed profession. And, every now and then, it can be challenged by confusing nuances and unusual dynamics. Working for high profile boards and/or families requires discretion. But that discretion can often limit one’s outlets for exploring the situations in which we find ourselves. Having a close knit group of colleagues who appreciate and understand the challenges we are facing, while respecting the need for discretion, is invaluable.

Being part of really small organizations, it sometimes feels like we are working in a vacuum. Even though board members are available and ready to discuss issues at a 50,000-foot level, they are not in the “trenches” and really do rely on us to lead our respective foundations. Over the past year, through our peer coaching group, we have had the experience of seeing how others approach similar types of issues. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who struggles and, perhaps more important, the peer coaching group offers ideas and a fresh perspective on framing issues and on developing solutions.

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Voices of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy

By Kellen MacBeth, individual donor and giving circle member

Last year, I attended an event at a local university where the author of a new book discussed the current model for American philanthropy: entrepreneurship/innovation leading to wealth accumulation leading to philanthropic giving.

I was struck as the author listed major philanthropists as trend-setters who, while accumulating their wealth, had contributed directly or indirectly to many of the same problems they would later give money to solve. After more research on the subject, I decided there had to be a better model.

Whereas it’s true that the capitalist system that defines the American economy has lifted large scores of people out of poverty and contributed to great technological innovations, it also has left millions of struggling people behind. Our philanthropic sector today relies on funding from many of the individuals and companies that, like the robber barons of yesterday, contribute to the environmental, social, and health problems it tries to fix. Can this system, which tacitly endorses the creation of problems as a key step in trying to fix them, truly work? I don’t think so.

Instead, we need foundations and nonprofits to work to reform the system and not just the problems it creates. We need a new model—beyond corporate social responsibility—wherein corporations are created, just like foundations, to help and not hurt people. Whereas the pursuit of profit and the influence of supply and demand will naturally remain a part of the new system, if we humanize our corporations, we can expect and receive more.

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How Do Funders Navigate the Power of the Purse?

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

Too often, grantees do the asking, reporting, and proving, while donors sit in positions to say yes or no, how much, when, and what’s required. Navigating the complex grantee–grantor relationship takes more than just good intentions—it takes flexibility, finesse, and a sincere desire to balance the power dynamics at play.

Katherine Lorenz, president of the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, knows about the dynamics between funders and grantees. Before becoming a funder, Lorenz spent years as a fundraiser and grantee. In 2003, she cofounded a nonprofit in Mexico to advance food sovereignty in rural Oaxaca. That experience gave her perspective on the challenges grantees face.

As a fundraiser, Lorenz always felt “like we were asking for a favor: ‘Would you mind’ or ‘Would you maybe consider giving to us?’ ” In addition, she found that many funders were opaque in what they wanted; it was never that clear how to get in the door. “Every funder had different rules and requirements, how they wanted the proposal and budget to be,” she says. Especially with small funders, the process seemed impossible to navigate.

Build Transparency and Trust

Lorenz says the greatest gift funders can give upfront is clarity about what they do and do not fund. “When you have a focused strategy,” she says, “it enhances the relationship with the people you say yes to, as well as the people you say no to. This kind of transparency helps ease the power dynamic.” To this end, one of the first things Lorenz did as president of her family’s foundation was create a website. “Even in the midst of transition, we’ve tried to be as transparent as we can about what we fund, the program areas we think we’re moving into, and the timing of it all.”

Although the Mitchell Foundation doesn’t tend to fund many unsolicited grantees, it nonetheless offers an online grantee portal, where any organization can engage with the foundation. “This is an entryway for organizations to apply and be seen by program staff, and it helps us, as funders, to know who’s out there.”

“There’s a lot of talk in the funder world about grantees being partners, but it does not feel like that in the grantee experience,” she says. “To be able to be honest with a funder and be treated as a true thought partner—that’s a rare and wonderful experience.”

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Pioneering a Unique Kind of Changemaking

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

When philanthropists are at work—even if meeting with nonprofits, bringing together people in the community, or speaking out on important issues—it is their potential to bestow grants that draws our attention. Everything philanthropists do, whether or not it involves the transfer of dollars, is called grantmaking.

In a society where money consumes our attention, several dozen small-staffed foundations have been quietly experimenting with a kind of philanthropy that counts money as only one of several assets put to use—and sometimes the least important. These funders are achieving impact way beyond the size of their assets, staff, and boards.

Exponent Philanthropy believes these foundations are creating and refining, without fanfare, a kind of philanthropy that is influencing the practice of making social impact and change. These funders are setting trends—under the radar. I want to describe for you their unique, dynamic work, and the uncommon mindset of their leaders.

Very Little to Do With Making Grants

What first caught my attention was the outsized impact these small-staffed foundations were achieving in their towns, cities, and states. Then, as I interviewed their leaders, I realized that much or most of their time had nothing to do with making grants.

What are these catalytic funders achieving?

  • A small family foundation in California is building a network to engage parents in decision making about the public school system’s budget. The network is making the school system more accountable to the needs of students and families—in part by getting parents elected to the school board.
  • A small public foundation in Kansas spearheaded a campaign to pass a state smoking ban, long supported by the public but blocked by powerful interests. The foundation commissioned a public poll documenting citizen support and developed innovative ways to deliver the results to legislators.
  • A group of foundations in Texas—including several small-staffed foundations—worked together to advocate the state legislature to restore $4 billion in cuts to public education. The coalition commissioned research to document specific impacts of the proposed $5.4 billion in cuts; got the results into the hands of influential individuals and groups; engaged more than 80 foundations throughout the state; and published a report specially for state legislators, framing the impact from the perspective of parents.

Letting the Work and Issue Guide You

I believe two qualities set these philanthropists apart: a willingness to let the work guide you, and the courage to venture where the path leads—wherever it goes.

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Mark #GivingTuesday by Marking the Many Ways to Give

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

#GivingTuesday 2014Today is #GivingTuesday.

In 2012, New York’s 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation led the charge to create #GivingTuesday, the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, to inspire generosity on the heels of two days dedicated to spending: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Hundreds of organizations from Sony to Skype signed on as partners, and thousands of nonprofits, schools, and cities launched #GivingTuesday campaigns to draw attention to their stories and their impact. 

To mark this day of giving, I encourage you to celebrate the many ways you can—and do—give. I particularly challenge you to think carefully about opportunities to give beyond financial gifts. Bringing nondollar assets to the table (alone or in combination with grants) is perhaps one of the most powerful ways we see our members lead.

Wrote Exponent Philanthropy Senior Program Director Andy Carroll earlier this year, “…some foundations and donors are quietly pushing the boundaries of philanthropic practice, with a type of philanthropy that hasn’t even been named yet. By combining grants with research, technical assistance, convening, connecting, advocacy, mobilization, and other kinds of direct action, philanthropists are changing, and sometimes completely transforming, their philanthropy.”

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We Need More Bridge-Builders in Our Fractured Era

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

In our divided world, I admire people who can cross borders and bridge chasms. I think of these uniquely skilled bridge-builders as ambassadors, able to move and navigate among different worlds, connecting people, organizations, and ideas.

People I believe who model this bridge-building in philanthropy include Jennifer Astone of the Swift Foundation, who engages diverse funders to explore how needs and issues in the United States connect with issues and trends internationally; Doug Bauer of the Clark Foundation, who educates and links a wide array of funders, nonprofits, and government agencies in New York State and nationally; Richard Toth, formerly of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, who with Grants Managers Network and Sara Engelhardt of the Foundation Center, created Project Streamline to bring associations of grantmakers, grantseekers, and fundraisers together to streamline practices; and Billie Hall of the Sunflower Foundation, who engages nonprofits and citizens throughout her state and beyond in health advocacy, bringing their voices to the policy table.

Last week I had the privilege of seeing another ambassador at work in philanthropy.

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Four Reasons To Speak Out About Your Philanthropy

By Courtney M. McSwain on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Foundations wrestling with the decision to speak publicly about their work received advice last month during Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference. Attendees gathered for a roundtable discussion on why and how to speak out, facilitated by Evan Mendelson of the David & Lura Lovell Foundation and Alexandra Toma of the Peace and Security Funders Group.  

Communicating and Speaking OutParticipants came to the table with a variety of questions, ranging from how to address transparency to which social media tools to use: Do we need a website, and when? How much do you publicize? How do you convince a board that going public is the right thing to do?

The dominant question was simply, Why go public?

The desire for privacy or a long-held belief that philanthropists should operate without drawing attention motivates more than a few funders to shy away from operating a website, using social media, or engaging the press. But it is important to think about what can be accomplished beyond writing checks, and going public can offer benefits without compromising a foundation’s core values. 

Here are four reasons to consider speaking out. Ultimately, philanthropists have to decide individually, based on their goals, if speaking out is right for them.

1. To Find Partners and Leverage Your Resources

There’s a reason organizations rejoice when their websites receive top billing from a Google keyword search—it means they are easy to find. The value of being searchable many not seem apparent at first, but consider what might happen if a like-minded partner (corporate, government, philanthropic, or otherwise) knew of the great work you support and wanted to help. That’s the example Toma shared about a Peace and Security Funders Group member that, after deciding to go public, caught the attention of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The organization was able to forge a $7 million partnership with USAID, greatly multiplying the impact of its philanthropy.

Even smaller opportunities can help to deepen your work. To attract new board members, for example, it is important for the community to know what you’re doing.

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The Makings of Phenomenal Foundation Executive Directors

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

Master Juggler Executive Institute

Foundation executive directors juggles many roles: strategic grantmaker, convener, collaborator, board wrangler, media spokesperson, technical assistance provider, mediator, and the list goes on and on.

With great thanks to the members of our inaugural Master Juggler Executive Institute for their insights, we present seven characteristics of phenomenal foundation executive directors. They’re a tall order indeed and part of a continual learning journey for even the best executives.

Masterful Communicators

“I’m learning that part of being an effective communicator is to deliver authentic messages that often are positioned squarely between the professional and the personal. It can be risky, but it’s also potentially powerful.”

Effective foundation executive directors are clear and confident communicators. They precisely and thoughtfully express ideas; frankly voice their opinions; communicate the why, the purpose, and the vision; and motivate others with their words. They also are skilled listeners and questioners, asking probing questions and guiding conversations to help others articulate their goals and move toward solutions. Exceptional executive directors also are adept at being quiet, at knowing when not to speak.

Great People-People

“Both introverts and extroverts can flourish in this capacity by focusing on and staying true to their relationship-building style.”

Phenomenal foundation executive directors have strong people skills and emotional intelligence. With a deep understanding of the humanness of this work, they are able to bring out the best in others. They are skilled at relationship-building and comfortable engaging with others.

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