15 Top Posts From 2015

We thank all our readers and the many funders and colleagues who lent us their voices this year. We were pleased to do our part to inform and inspire your giving with these popular posts and many more.

New Regulations Spotlight Nonprofit Overhead
New rules that rewrote the book on federal grantmaking.

Are Your Trustees Involved Too Much—or Too Little—in Grantmaking?
What can you do to find a better balance?

10 Tips to Boost Your Facilitation Skills
Skillful facilitation can make your meetings more efficient, engaging, and enjoyable for all involved.

Top Resources for Philanthropists With Few or No Staff
Top resources from our shop and trusted colleague organizations.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Capacity Building Support: A Metrics Menu
Get reasonable benchmarks for evaluating capacity building support.

Reducing the Burden on Our Grantseekers and Ourselves
How and why one funder reduced its grant application from 6 pages to 1.

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Nurturing a Culture of Curiosity, Inquiry, and Innovation

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

As funders seek to leverage their resources for impact and change, many ignore a powerful asset right under their gaze. This hidden asset is the donor, board member, family member, or staff person who possesses curiosity—the drive to venture out into the community or field to listen, talk with people, and learn.

From interviews with over a hundred small-staffed funders around the country, I have learned that these inquisitive people are the ones who discover insights that take their foundation or philanthropy in a new direction, to a new level of impact. They are the ones who, by talking with people from diverse walks of life, convening grantees and community agencies, attending public meetings, or going to conferences, find out something that changes the game for their philanthropy. 

These individuals take the initiative to reach out and talk with board and staff of nonprofit organizations, other foundations in their region or field, beneficiaries of social services, university researchers, business leaders, government officials, social workers, journalists, teachers, parents, students, volunteers.

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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Personal Networks

Earlier this year, Exponent Philanthropy released Outsized Impact 2015, which centers around the stories of 7 inspiring funders, including the one below. Download the full Outsized Impact 2015 report >>

043Jameson (Jamey) French of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, knows how to get things done. He should—he’s been engaged in his community for decades as a businessperson, philanthropist, and board member. His community engagement started at a young age.

“I was an eco-activist at age 16. When others were protesting the war in Vietnam, I chaired the first Earth Day in my town.”

That was 1970. Fast-forward 45 years, and Jamey is still doing what he does best: engaging in what he believes in, rallying public support, and raising (and giving) philanthropic dollars. An individual donor to many causes and a trustee of many boards, Jamey donates considerable time, energy, expertise, and money to a number of local, regional, and national environmental and charitable organizations.

“I come from a family that earned its living from the land and from the forest,” says the fourth-generation lumberman. “Luckily our family’s attitude was that you grow trees for your grandchildren. My family had deep appreciation for and long-term engagement in protecting land and protecting the forest.”

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High Visibility, High Reward: Why We Publicize Our Guidelines & Process

By Rob DiLeonardi, VNA Foundation 

Not all that much good comes with getting older, but one exception is time spent with the best teacher of all: experience. After 27 years in foundation philanthropy, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn firsthand some important lessons, and today I share a key one: Publishing your guidelines, and generally being transparent about your grantmaking process, will save you time, energy, and money, and increase the impact of your giving.

It may at first seem counterintuitive, but, in my experience and that of many of my peers, the more you publicize your funding guidelines, the fewer applications you’ll get—especially if you are a funder who previously resisted making your guidelines widely known.

Some funders don’t publicize their guidelines because they fear it will “open the floodgates,” bringing on a deluge of applications that will bury them in paperwork; others keep their funding goals close to their chest because they prefer to be proactive grantmakers; if they say nothing about their funding priorities, they figure no one will approach them.

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There Is a Reporter on the Phone—Top 10 Tips

telephoneThis is the third of a 3-part blog series to help funders leverage relationships with traditional media. Our thanks to Patti Giglio of PSG Communications, LLC, for her contributions to our new media toolkit for Exponent Philanthropy members, the basis for this blog series.

See other posts in this series

1. Consider the reporter’s inquiry an opportunity.

Most reporters want to get it right and approach their work with journalistic integrity. You should assume the inquiry represents an opportunity, not a threat.

2. Be helpful and responsive.

Journalists come back to people who are responsive. It is important to respond within an hour, even if it is only to gather information about what the reporter is looking for and understand her deadlines.

3. Start by gathering information.

Ask for the reporter’s name, affiliation, contact information, story line, and deadline. This is your opportunity to interview the reporter and learn about her story and how you can help. Appropriate questions include:

  • What is your deadline?
  • Who else are you speaking with?
  • Are there specific questions I can help with?
  • Can I help with photos or other visuals to tell your story?

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A Program Officer’s Bookmarks: Blogs, Books, and More

By Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation

FilesNot long ago, I was contacted by a young professional interested in exploring a career in grantmaking. She inquired about what books, websites, and blogs I have found most helpful in my position as a program officer, and I offered to compile a short list to send her way. As a new program officer myself—just shy of two years on the job!—I’ve found myself returning over and over to a number of practical resources as I learn the craft of grantmaking and work with grantees.

The following is my go-to list for new—or even seasoned—grantmakers:

Philanthropy News Digest: Weekend Link Roundup—I try to make time to look at this list on Monday mornings—it’s a fabulous summary of grantmaking news, lessons learned, blogs, etc.

Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking by Joel Orosz—Through the kind advice of another grantmaker, I read this book right before I started my job as a program officer. From a practical standpoint, it’s a real winner. Orosz provides insight into the day-to-day work of effectively communicating with grantees, navigating challenging dynamics inherent in grantmaking, and more. A must read!

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The Buying Season

sticky-notes-to-do-listBy Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

Well, it’s that season again! People are breaking out their checkbooks and making resolutions for the new year. I know it sounds like I’m talking about the holidays, but I am actually talking about the end-of-year technology purchasing season.

I have been in the technology industry for most of my career and have always been surprised by the number of new purchases made in December. We thought it may be different serving the grantmaking industry, but it isn’t. The primary reason people buy in December is a function of their organization’s budget. Typically they are spending leftover budget or dipping into next year’s funds for a purchase they have been wanting all year.

So, rather than fight the trend, let me offer some advice to help make your new year happy and keep your buyer’s remorse to a minimum.

Are you spending leftover budget?

If you find yourself in a position to use up budget at year end, here are some tips, keeping in mind that this situation often holds the most risk for both the consumer and the vendor.

  • First, don’t make impulse purchases. If you are using leftover budget for small hardware upgrades or for a solution you have had your eye on all year, great. But if the primary goal is to use up your budget by year end, you may be disappointed in the new year.
  • Second, stop thinking about the budget, and don’t let the vendor focus on it either. Never tell a vendor you are using up end-of-year budget. This will often make them focus on helping you spend your money instead of solving your business problem. Start at the beginning of the purchase process. You can do it quickly, but any discussions internally or with vendors should be based on the problem you are using this excess budget to solve, not the budget itself.
  • Third, keep in mind: Just because you have extra money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the best deal. Make sure prospective vendors take you seriously.

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The Pulse—Big Ideas: Guiding Donors to Social Change, Empowering Nonprofits, Renewing Civic Life

The PulseBy 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  

Lack of Guidance, Not Lack of Desire, May Be Limiting Social Change Philanthropy 

A recent study by Foundation Source and reflections by experienced philanthropic advisors shine a light on challenges faced by high net worth donors in diversifying their philanthropic investments. Donors’ penchant for giving to large, traditional, well-known organizations such as major universities, hospitals, and religious organizations may not always be their first preference, but a kind of default choice resulting from difficulties identifying smaller, lesser-known social change organizations. Funding social change takes more time and work; requires shedding a measure of privacy to go out into public to learn; and often requires taking on more risk. 

Nevertheless, the possibility of making significant progress on difficult and urgent issues donors care about, holds great appeal. There is tremendous frustration, experts say. 

Neither financial advisors nor the vast amount of information and data available online seems to be meeting the need for this type of guidance. High net worth donors may be looking for a network of trusted people—including peers—who are deeply knowledgeable about opportunities to advance social change and who can listen carefully, engage in discussions of values and goals, and guide donors without self-interest.

Getting Real About Funding Impact 

Dan Pallotta sees a damaging contradiction in the public’s attitude toward nonprofit organizations. On the one hand, donors expect nonprofits to operate lean, minimizing fundraising and operating costs; on the other, we expect charities to work harder and on a bigger scale to make real progress in addressing society’s urgent problems. To empower nonprofits to achieve what we expect of them, Pallotta asserts that we must invest boldly in developing nonprofits’ capacity and in their growth—just as we invest in building for-profit companies. To do this, we must take more smart risks.  

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To Achieve Leverage, A Small Funder Engages the Community’s Expertise

By Richard M. Zeigler, Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation

McCulloch Park, Muncie, IN Photo credit: http://www.cityofmuncie.com/muncie-city-parks.htm

McCulloch Park, Muncie, IN
Photo credit: cityofmuncie.com/muncie-city-parks.htm

The Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation takes a unique approach to our grantmaking: We pursue our mission by supporting a community organization composed of local citizens and experts who propose and select projects to be funded. In this way, we engage local citizens who know the community and have special expertise in our mission areas.

As president of the foundation and son of the founders, I feel that our strategy leverages our assets exponentially. Here is how we do it.

Established in 1984, the Zeigler Foundation is a small family foundation composed of seven board members with an endowment of just over $2.7 million. In 20 years we have distributed over $2 million to support our mission of being a catalyst for improving the natural beauty and the quality of life for the residents of our city (Muncie, Indiana), county, and state. We focus on projects that promote horticultural conservation and development, as well as supporting recreational facilities, historical preservation, and celebrations in connection with these activities.

Although we give directly to particular projects and provide annual contributions to various organizations, the majority of our funding goes to support the operating expenses and projects undertaken by Community Enhancement Projects, Inc. (CEP), a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Muncie. CEP is the linchpin organization that empowers us to engage and benefit from the wealth of expertise in our city and region.

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What Do You Know? What Can You Do?

By Celeste Land, Land Family Foundation

This morning I found myself thinking about lessons learned about inspiration in grantmaking from the Girl Scout troop I co-led for many years.

Our girls didn’t do grantmaking, of course, but they did do a lot of community service projects. Several of our 11- to 14-year-olds earned the Silver Award, where the girl selects, plans, and implements a service project that benefits the community.

Two girls had no trouble with inspiration for service project. They “went deep,” using their passions and their significant volunteer experience with specific causes. The aspiring marine biologist organized a stream monitoring program for her neighborhood. The historical re-enactor compiled and tested a colonial cookbook for her local historical site.

But the other girls found the inspiration part excruciatingly hard.

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