Patient Philanthropy: How a Small Foundation Got Big Results

This article was originally published by NPQ online, on April 26, 2017,
https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2017/04/26/patient-philanthropy-
small-foundation-big-results-grant-making/
. Used with permission.

By Mark Gunther 

Philanthropy often seems to be reinventing itself. Strategic plans are undertaken; old priorities get restated; new buzzwords develop. While there is an ongoing argument about how much this kind of churn may actually help the ultimate beneficiaries, a small foundation doesn’t often take the time or budget for that kind of contemplation. Yet small size can enable a certain flexibility and responsiveness that can drive change perhaps even more effectively than the most competent big budget efforts.

At the Eva Gunther Foundation (EGF), a public charity founded by my wife Anne Krantz and myself in 1999, the vision is to give other girls access to experiences similar to those Eva had. Many highly capable girls are financially unable to have life-broadening experiences after school or in the summer, and we wanted to make that possible for some teenage girls. We established two funds: The Program Grant funded scholarships to grantee programs, and the Fellowship allowed a girl nominated by a mentor or teacher to do something specific she wants to do but cannot afford.

This mission brought us into contact with the savvy and dedicated leaders of the many grassroots social service agencies that provide direct services to girls and young women. It was a good match. We wanted Eva’s love and passion—her presence—to infuse everything we did. We wanted relationships with our grantees (our trustees would make site visits, serving as informal program officers). We wanted the grant process to be easy. We wanted individual girls to be helped. Our communication was quite transparent regarding all of this, which was gratefully received by the agencies we supported. “I don’t have to explain, ‘Why Girls?’ to you,” we often were told. “You get it.” And we did. We got them, and they got us.

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Capacity problems? Interns to the rescue!

By Jacob Sharp, Foundant Technologies

The following article first appeared on Foundant’s blog (March 8, 2017). It is reposted here with permission from Foundant, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner.

As your organization grows and opportunities become more numerous, capacity problems will make themselves known. This is true in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and isn’t something you can power through with talent and gumption–even if that’s what got you this far.

This is a tipping point. You need general operating support, but you also can’t get too crazy, or you might cause your accountant undue stress. Do you hire a new full-time employee? Put out the word for volunteers? Lean on your board for increased support? It’s a question your organization will have to answer sooner or later.

Speaking from experience

Foundant faced this same fork in the road about two years ago. We chose to implement a program that simultaneously solved our capacity problem and continually enriches our local community: student internships. Ambitious, hardworking, and looking to prove themselves, college students are a valuable resource for all types of organizations. And we’re lucky to be in the same community as Montana State University, where so many bright students have chosen to further their education.

The average 20-year-old probably knows more about current technology than someone who graduated in IT ten years ago, and they adapt to new technology quickly. Using the Foundant Client Services team as an example, students can be up and running in our software within two weeks, which leaves our more experienced Client Success Managers time to focus on bigger picture items for our clients, while our student team handles the day-to-day support questions that pop up.

Foundant interns work in our Client Services team, Operations team, and Marketing team. And we continually look for new ways we can utilize their youth, energy, and natural curiosity to build capacity and strengthen the Foundant core team.

Related: What I Learned Interning at a Small Foundation >>

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Data, Trends, and the Value of Written Foundation Policies

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy

I can’t count the number of times a member has called with a sticky situation—how to handle a conflict of interest, or a board member not pulling his or her weight—but, when I ask about what expectations or policies are written down, I learn that there’s nothing in place. That’s an awkward time for the board to decide what the foundation’s policy is! Having policies in writing is one of the best ways to avoid being tripped up by such problems.

To learn more from our members about which policies they find most useful, we ask about a number of policies and documents and share the results in our annual report. We’ve learned that foundations are most likely to report use of written conflict of interest statements (80%), investment policies (78%), grant guidelines (76%), and vision or mission statements (70%).You can put this data to use in your own foundation today. Start with the most common policy and work your way down. Starting with a conflict of interest statement, ask if your foundation has this policy, and, if not, if this policy would be helpful in a pinch. Not all foundations need to have all these policies—for example, not all foundations need a donor intent statement—and there are others that your foundation may benefit from that are not on this list. You only want to adopt those policies that are meaningful and relevant for your foundation.

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The Challenges Grantmakers Face in Supporting Technology

By Karen Graham, Idealware

Originally published by Idealware (March 2017)

Can grants managers play a role in helping nonprofits get the technology funding they need to be successful? I led a discussion on this topic yesterday at the PEAK Grantmaking (formerly Grants Managers Network) conference in Hollywood, California. The breakout session, “How To Spot the Missing Tech in Grant Proposals,” covered why and how technology often gets short changed, the planning knowledge and skill nonprofits need in order to thrive with technology, and what is needed for grantmakers to support nonprofits with technology. 

I asked participants to share what challenges they have experienced in regard to supporting technology, what ideas they had for improving systems and practices, and what they needed in order to make this possible. Their responses were so thoughtful that I wanted to share them here. 

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Collective Impact vs. Collaboration: Do You Know the Differences?

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: Collective Impact: B’More for Healthy Babies Case Study. Exponent Philanthropy members may access the 90-minute webinar recording >>

Collaboration is a common strategy to solve social problems, but collective impact—aligning diverse stakeholders around shared outcomes—may be less familiar. And the two are not one and the same.

“There are a lot of folks out there talking about collective impact, and it is somewhat getting watered down as a result…replacing the word collaboration,” according to Jeff Edmondson, founder and executive director of StriveTogether, which helps communities identify and scale what works in education.

What distinguishes collective impact from collaboration?

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5 Building Blocks of a Successful Media Strategy

Every organization, no matter the size, should consider developing a media strategy. Beautifully landscaped Facebook pages and carefully crafted tweets are less important than unified messages and timely goals.

The following general guidelines, excerpted from our Media Toolkit for Exponent Philanthropy members, can be adopted by any nonprofit or foundation seeking to build relationships with its community and craft a powerful media strategy.

Download “Media Toolkit: A Funder’s Guide to Engaging With Members of the Media” (Exponent Philanthropy members) >>

1. Identify a Purpose (“The Why”)

Every media strategy should be rooted in a specific message and sense of purpose. The public won’t respond to your call for attention if you don’t know why you’re calling them. Your campaign should be firmly targeted to both the population you want to serve and the people who can help you serve them. Scattered media strategies result in scattered goals and lackluster results. Before you initiate any campaign, make sure you know why you are doing so.

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8 Silo-Smashing Trends in Philanthropy

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group

In my work as a philanthropic advisor, I come across philanthropy in all forms—from individual giving to institutional grantmaking and everything in between. It used to be that most of my clients engaged in their work from behind a wall of protection. Charity and grantmaking were held aside and in addition to other forces for good. However, over the past few years I’ve noticed philanthropy in all forms becoming less siloed and more interwoven with the world around it. Here are eight manifestations of this trend:

  1. CEO branding. Foundation CEOs and high-net-worth donors, following in the footsteps of their corporate counterparts, are realizing the personal and professional value of developing their own “brands”—through blog posts, speeches, articles, and more. By using their voices more aggressively (and sometimes independently), they help support the reputations of the philanthropies they serve and incite meaningful conversation and debate within the field.
  1. Use of advisors and coaches. Philanthropy used to be something largely driven by an individual donor or foundation founder’s own gut instincts and emotional connections, and guided only by their own perceptions and experiences. Philanthropic advisors were practically unheard of. Increasingly, however, philanthropists recognize that those with specific knowledge and experience in philanthropy, grantmaking, leadership, strategy, and operations can provide valuable insight and guidance to help funders make dramatic and rapid change.
  1. Faster health conversions. Twenty years ago, when health conversion foundations first began to appear, their path toward effective philanthropy was gradual. New health conversion foundations usually moved slowly from a broad, “supporting our community” clinical health focus to more strategic efforts that addressed social determinants of health. (Part of this was because the field’s discussion of social determinants was also in its infancy.) Nowadays, I find new health conversion foundations eager to hit the ground running with well-thought-out, strategic approaches that engage communities quickly and deeply, and strive for impact.

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From the Mouths of Funders and Nonprofits: 20 Ways to Build Better Relationships

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy, and Jenny Chandler, National Council of Nonprofits

Last week we held two Great Funder-Nonprofit Relationships programs generously supported by the Fund for Shared Insight. More than 200 total participants, representing both funders and nonprofits, joined us for candid conversations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

What does a great funder-nonprofit relationship look and feel like?

We asked this question during the program and gathered 30 responses that summed up the participants’ collective vision:

  1. Open
  2. Honest
  3. Comfortable
  4. Transparent
  5. Trusting
  6. Authentic
  7. Informative
  8. Aligned
  9. Transforming
  10. Personal
  11. Responsive
  12. Flexible
  13. Two-way
  14. Accountable
  15. Thoughtful
  1. Realistic
  2. Accepting
  3. Humanistic
  4. Evolving
  5. Intentional
  6. Strategic
  7. Rewarding
  8. Mutually beneficial
  9. Sustainable
  10. Curious
  11. Inspirational
  12. Patient
  13. Collaborative
  14. Relaxed not rushed
  15. Fun!

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Coming to the Work as Equals

By Paul Serini, The Helen J. Serini Foundation

When my wife and I set up our family foundation in 2012, we engaged my three children (then in their late teens and early 20s) in deciding whether a foundation was something we wanted to do as a family. We pressed the kids long and hard, even handed out questionnaires, wanting it to be a collective decision, a shared responsibility.

All three stepped to the plate. They made clear that they understood the responsibility and accepted the challenges. From there, we developed everything about the foundation in cooperation: the size and number of grants, voting rules, areas of focus. We designed our grantmaking approach to give back as much as possible, meaning we look for ways to partner beyond dollars. We think very carefully about strengthening the organizations we work with.

In time, say 10–15 years, I want to step back and have my children run the foundation. That means being conscious about ceding control and viewing all foundation members—regardless of age—as equals.

Sharing Control Peer to Peer

The biggest challenge we’ve encountered—and I have to believe this is the biggest challenge of any young organization—is sharing control as peers. On a small board composed of three kids, two parents, and a bunch of other 65-year-old adults, it’s something that requires a conscious effort in all interactions. But it’s worth it.

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Tips for Effective Meetings With Government Officials, From Our Firsthand Experience

By Kristina Nygaard and Cynthia Schaal, Exponent Philanthropy

This year’s Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) was hosted by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers in partnership with the Council on Foundations and Alliance for Charitable Reform. FOTH is a multiday event that brings foundation leaders from across the country to Washington, DC for meetings with Congress about key issues of importance to foundations and philanthropy. Foundation trustees and staff work with their regional associations to schedule meetings on Capitol Hill to personally discuss their work with members of Congress.

Excited to join members and staff from Philanthropy California for meetings with some of their representatives, we left our DC office for Capitol Hill to represent the small-staffed foundation perspective. We also wanted to gain firsthand experience in meeting with elected officials to determine further ways to support our members interested in advocacy.

Our top takeaways on effective in-person meetings with elected officials include:

Share local connections and stories

Be prepared to share specific stories of how the projects and organizations you support positively impact a local issue that is also high on the official’s agenda. Stating if you are originally from and/or live in their state/district, actively fund organizations in those areas, and have mutual professional and personal contacts also resonated in meetings. Senators and representatives were keenly interested in hearing their constituents’ concerns, not merely broad national issues.

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