Setting a Strategy and Sticking to It

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Rhonnel Sotelo doesn’t have a favorite childhood book. He wasn’t much of a reader as a child, and only reached third grade reading proficiency in eighth grade. Yet thanks to several caring high school teachers and two UCLA English professors, he was able to turn around his reading capability later in life and passed that love of reading on to his two teenage daughters. Now literacy and public education are his career and personal passion.

As executive director of the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland, California, Sotelo in partnership with CEO Brian Rogers and team, works to make sure children have opportunities to attend high-quality schools that provide personalized student-centered learning experiences, as well as ensure that students get off to good starts by being able to read on grade level by the end of third grade.

Education, says Sotelo, has always been compelling for the Rogers family. In 2003, after selling the company they owned for 26 years, Dreyers Ice Cream, T. Gary and Kathleen Rogers, along with their four sons, looked at how they could give back to their hometown of Oakland. Certainly there was no shortage of needs: crime, healthcare, housing affordability, and the list goes on. Yet they realized if there was one funding focus that could help all these issues, it was educating children.

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Data for Decision Making: KIDS COUNT Data Center

Exponent Philanthropy thanks the Annie E. Casey Foundation for partnering to deliver a 3-part “Improving Outcomes for Children & Families” webinar series. This post is based on one part of the series: Data for Decision Making: KIDS COUNT Data Center. View the 90-minute webinar on using data to inform grantmaking and advocacy >>

Did you know there is a free, online resource where you can access hundreds of indicators, download data, and create reports and graphics that support smart decisions about children and families?

It’s called the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) since 1990, and it is the premier source for data on child and family well-being in the United States.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center includes more than 4 million searchable data points, according to Laura Speer, AECF associate director for policy reform and advocacy, and can be used to generate maps and graphics to include in your presentations or post to social media.

For example, do you want to know how many fourth-graders are below proficient in reading in your state? The Data Center is searchable by location (e.g., state, county, city, congressional district), topic (e.g., economic well-being, education, health), and characteristic (race and ethnicity, age, family nativity).

In addition to including data from the most trusted national resources, the KIDS COUNT Data Center draws from more than 50 KIDS COUNT state organizations that provide state and local data, as well publications providing insights into trends affecting child and family well-being.

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Let’s Play to Our Strengths

By Jonathan Solari, Working Capital for Community Needs

In times of uncertainty, additional pressure will inevitably be put on all forms of philanthropy. Need increases, and the donors, investors, and institutions who can think creatively and uphold their commitments must carry the additional weight. The result of carrying that weight? Strength.

As Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) became an Exponent Philanthropy member in 2016, we celebrated the beginning of our Loan Fund’s 25th anniversary. This milestone gave the organization reason to discover lessons from its founding as a way to navigate the market’s modern moment.

In the 1980s, WCCN was the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, a group that brought the sister-state program of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress to life with tangible results. Cultural exchanges, delivery of goods, and educational programs were building bridges between the socially responsible of Wisconsin and the working poor of Nicaragua. But, as the Latin American country braced itself for revolution, the American government instated an embargo that was meant to stop all exchanges.

What was meant to be a blockade turned into a hurdle to those first WCCN lenders, which evolved to a launching pad for a revolutionary idea. The first WCCN loan of $5,000 was meant not as a new business model, but as a creative solution invented from necessity.

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Giving Globally: When to Go Big & When to Go Small

By Rebecca Miller, The Philanthropic Initiative, an Exponent Philanthropy Professional Partner

Originally appeared on TPI’s Deep Social Impact blog (August 3, 2016)

The recent USA Giving Report shared the good news that last year there was an increase in international giving stemming from the U.S. However, many people still see barriers to global giving.

Those obstacles include the fear of corruption and dollars being wasted, the inability to directly see the impact of philanthropy done abroad, or the obvious needs we all see right here in own backyard. When donors do consider international giving, they can be stymied by which organizations to fund and by which approach to international giving will have the greatest impact.

In our work at TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy, we often see clients grapple with the decision to fund larger, international organizations, or to seek out small grassroots organizations; struggling with the right approach may be one of the reasons international giving from the U.S. remains relatively low.

It’s understandable that many donors wrestle with this issue. With so many amazing organizations doing social justice work every day to change the world, how do you think about practicing effective international philanthropy? How do you decide which organizations will achieve the biggest impact with your giving? How can you ensure that there is transparency and accountability by the organization you’re supporting? How do you decide when to go big and when to go small?

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Philanthropy and Complex Problems: Being Real, Stepping Into Leadership (4 Years Later)

More than four years ago, our Andy Carroll penned two blog posts on the role of funders in addressing complex problems. Struck by their relevance still today, we re-run them here for those who have joined our community since then. Read other posts in our series on philanthropic leadership >>

Original post
by Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy, November 16, 2012

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 funders—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 their philanthropy 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.

For example, when funders talk about the following issues, they are talking about complex problems:

  • “We’re funding this very effective training program for people with prior drug problems and people who have been incarcerated. The program faces major government funding cuts, which will only increase recidivism and burden our society with even greater costs.”
  • “We’re funding the training of elementary teachers in this creative, highly effective teaching technique. But we realized the teachers’ class sizes are huge. They’re too overwhelmed to consider the new approach.”
  • “The insurance companies in our state won’t pay for a certain intervention, which we know is proven and effective. We can’t get traction.”

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Networks Move the Needle

Exponent Philanthropy recently released its annual Outsized Impact report, an e-publication filled with funder stories and stats to illustrate the power of those who give with few or no staff, including the story below. Read the full report >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

If you invite Melissa Jones to a meeting, she’ll say all the things other people are afraid to say out loud. “People know I’ll rabble-rouse,” she says. Jones is an individual donor, a partner in the donor collaborative Social Venture Partners, and a consultant who connects nonprofits to networks and systems of change.

One example: She believes more foundations should sunset. “I want to destroy all the benefits foundations get year after year. How about this? You get one tax break when you start a foundation, and that’s it. If people want to talk the talk about reallocating wealth, let’s do it. I would rather see foundations spend their money now rather than perpetuate for years.”

Nonprofits have proliferated in America since the 1970s and even more so since 9/11, but we’re not moving the dial on social problems, she says. In some cases, we’re slipping back.

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Ready to Be an Impact Investor? Move Slowly, Stay Curious

This post is an excerpt from the complimentary resource Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations, created by Exponent Philanthropy and partners Mission Investors Exchange and Arabella Advisors. Want to align your investments with your mission? Download your copy >>

By Lucy Cantwell, New Belgium Family Foundation

Many people are beginning to intuitively grasp the promise of impact investing but struggle with how they might participate. Finding a balance between the traditionally “hard” skills of finance and the “softer” considerations of impact is an opportunity for foundations and advisors alike.

We started, as many foundations do, by incorporating the beliefs and intent of our founder. Kim Jordan started the foundation with her family after New Belgium Brewing Company— the company she co-founded and runs as CEO—became 100 percent employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan in 2012. In addition, the company has a long history of environmental and socially responsible practices, and we wanted to ensure the foundation would reflect that history. We knew that we wanted to pursue impact investing, as it dovetailed with Kim’s belief in the transformative potential of business, but we didn’t know how to execute that vision.

Interviewing investment advisors and learning each of these groups’ definitions of impact investing helped us articulate our own goals. Although financial return was important to us, we cared more about maximizing our potential impact—a surprise to many advisors. We realized that a 100 percent commitment to impact for our then $7 million portfolio was essential—a way of activating our 95 percent as well as our 5 percent payout. We wanted to support thoughtful businesses like the one created by Kim, and we also wanted to help signal to the mainstream financial system that there are investors who privilege value creation that goes beyond shareholder value. During this time we also refined the core values of the foundation and added an emphasis on taking risks and collaboration. After talking with potential advisors, and learning what leeway there was to support our vision of impact investing, we settled on a boutique impact investment firm to manage our corpus.

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How to Spot a Next Gen Fellow

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

How do you know if Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program is right for you or someone at your foundation?

As we note in the program details, the 6-month training fellowship is designed for “dynamic leaders roughly 18–35 years old who are involved in all types of foundations as current or soon-to-be trustees or staff.”

Given that many applications and even more queries are rolling in as the April 10 application deadline approaches, I thought it may be helpful to go deeper in describing characteristics that make for a good match between the program and a prospective applicant. This might be especially helpful for foundations that have several 18- to 35-year-olds who might be interested.

Although the characteristics below are not comprehensive, and not every applicant will share all of them, we are looking to build a group of participants who demonstrate a good balance of these. We hope this will help you make decisions about applying and, if ready, meet the April 10 application deadline.

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WATCHING: Tax Reform Provisions With Implications for Philanthropy and Charity

U.S. CapitolBy Sue Santa, policy and legal consultant

For several years, we’ve been hearing promises of comprehensive tax reform. Both Congressional leaders and the Trump administration voice their commitment, and we’re told the President will release a plan soon. The President is slated to address Congress on February 28, so we may get signals then of what he has in mind. Congress too is fine-tuning its plan.

Congressional leaders aim for comprehensive tax reform to achieve several broad goals:

  • Simplify an overly burdensome and confusing tax code;
  • Lower rates and broaden the base (i.e., remove many deductions, loopholes);
  • Spur economic growth;
  • Level the playing field for U.S. corporations; and
  • Reinstate “fairness.”

Exactly how this will be achieved, at what cost, and whether those costs will need to be offset with tax revenues are issues that remain to be resolved. We also don’t know if a truly comprehensive overhaul—addressing both individual and corporate taxes—is achievable. It’s a monumental aspiration at a time when there’s very little agreement in Washington—in Congress, with the Administration, and within the political parties—beyond broad concepts. In the end, we might see slimmed back efforts.

With all this uncertainty, why should we be vigilant now? Don’t we have time? No, we don’t.

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Are You Funding What Works?

Exponent Philanthropy thanks the Annie E. Casey Foundation for partnering to deliver a 3-part “Improving Outcomes for Children & Families” webinar series. This post is based on one part of the series: Evidence Based-Approaches to Grantmaking. View the 90-minute webinar on evidence-based approaches to grantmaking >>

In today’s age of data, measurement, metrics, and evaluation, are you surprised to learn that public systems serving children and families (e.g., health, education, child welfare) have been slow to adopt tested, effective programs on the community and state level?

“Unfortunately, when it comes to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families, the science of evaluating programs has moved much, much faster than the science of implementing them,” said Suzanne Barnard, director of Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF)’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. “There is a big gap between knowing what works and using what works in practice.”

For example, we know that prevention is key to improving outcomes for children. Tested, effective programs that minimize risk factors (e.g., family conflict, academic failure) and maximize protective factors (e.g., social skills, positive relationships with adults) have been proven to positively affect outcomes over time, and can be embedded into community, school, or family life.

So why does uptake remain low? AECF posed this question to public sector leaders, revealing three barriers to uptake:

  • Not knowing which programs are best for the children being served
  • Needing guidance on implementation
  • Not knowing how to pay for the programs

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