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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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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My “Mission Sabbatical” and Why Your Foundation CEO Needs One Too

By Beth Gosch, The Western New York Foundation

I went on “sabbatical”! I was still working every day, but my wonderful board gave me “mission time.” Yes, you heard correctly. I was given 3 months to think about our foundation’s mission, its work, and our processes.

What exactly does this mean? Well, to start, we temporarily closed our online portal and skipped a grantmaking cycle so that I could focus my attention on executive matters like… what are we doing and how are we doing. I’m convinced that other foundations must follow suit, because it is so healthful to a single-staffed organization like mine.

I remember being at a session with a group of executive directors, who had been in their positions 10 years or longer, at a recent Exponent Philanthropy conference. I brought up the topic of “mission time” and asked how my colleagues were devoting the time to give it the attention it deserved. Peoples’ eyes popped, and the conversation was hot! We all talked about it as if it were a utopian concept—great but unattainable. Of course this led to conversation about burn-out and the question about how to re-energize ourselves and our work.

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Foundation CEOs Experience Gender Pay Gap

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year. The average American woman would have to continue to work through this date in 2017 to earn as much as the average American man in 2016.

The Pay Equity Landscape

According to the most recent data, women earned 80 cents compared to $1 earned by men for the same work. Research shows that the pay gap is even worse for African American women, Native American women, and Latinas, whether you compare their average salaries against overall men’s salaries or the salaries of men within the same race/ethnicity. Asian American women experience a smaller inequity than women overall, but the pay gap persists for them too.

Nationally and across all sectors, pay equity improved greatly between 1960 (when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data) and 2000, from 60 cents on the dollar to approximately 78 cents. Since 2000, however, the rate of progress has slowed dramatically.

Our own salary data for foundation members by gender goes back to 2004 and, as with the national data, also shows a lack of progress in recent years.

The ratio of women’s salaries to men’s does not show improvement over the past decade among CEO/executive directors of Exponent Philanthropy member foundations.

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Foundation Executives: Make This a Year You Invest in Your Leadership

By Leslie Sholl Jaffe, independent consultant 

For many years, Exponent Philanthropy has offered programming and resources geared to the unique needs of foundation executive directors. This spring, it will be my privilege to again serve as co-faculty for Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Master Juggler Executive Institute, a unique 6-month peer learning opportunity for those in the most senior staff role at their foundations. Learn more about the Master Juggler Executive Institute >>

Leadership development is key to creating long-term sustainable systems within our organizations, and executive directors are at the heart of these systems.

Having spent the first 15 years of my career in the for-profit world working in large corporations, I was witness to the tremendous investment made by organizations in their most valuable assets: their people, who received training and development relevant to their leadership positions.

Nonprofit leaders and foundation executive directors are no less talented than their counterparts in the for-profit world, and the demands placed on them are no less than the demands placed on other chief executives. The greatest differential is the amount of investment made in their ongoing leadership development.

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Show Me the Story: Data Visualization

By Ann K. Emery, Emery Analytics, LLC

Funders create charts and graphs—visualize their data—for different audiences and different purposes. Sometimes funders serve as unbiased disseminators of data as-is; other times they seek to tell a story—and fast. It’s not that one method of data visualization—as is vs. storytelling—is better or worse. But it is up to you to figure out when your viewers expect each style and then switch back and forth.

The as-is approach to data visualization is the easy one. You create a graph. You clean up the default settings a little. You select a color palette that matches your brand. (Default color palettes scream, I have no idea what I’m doing!) The storytelling approach can seem like the harder one. But it’s not impossible. It’s just a newer style for most of us.

Who are your viewers? What information do they need? Do they want to see the data presented as-is, or do they want you to interpret the data?

Storytelling Strategies to Consider for Your Graphs

Let’s take a look at some examples. The graphs on the left present the data as-is while the graphs on the right interpret the data. They illustrate how to use the following design strategies to tell a story with your data:

  • Descriptive titles
  • Descriptive subtitles
  • Annotations, which are call-out boxes that give viewers more background information about a specific data point or two
  • Color saturation

Example 1: A bar chart

The chart on the right uses a descriptive title and color saturation to show how chocolate is the preferred ice cream flavor.

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OnTopic: A Foundation Communications Tool

ontopic_mission_no-signBy Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation

We’ve all been there: a mountain of proposals to read, voicemails blinking with messages, board meetings with packed agendas, and the frenzy to get grant checks out the door. In the midst of the commotion of day-to-day operations, it can be easy to lose sight of investing board and staff time in the deeper how’s and why’s of foundation work.

Amidst never ending to-do lists, how can we keep our perspectives centered on the core principles and values that drive our operations? How can we help ensure that board and staff members alike remain well-versed in the philosophies that inform decision making? How can we help to provide additional context for big discussions?

In 2015, Ball Brothers Foundation (and our 4-person staff) added a new “tool” to our communications toolbox to do just this. In addition to communicating with our 13-member board via quarterly newsletters, social media, and our board portal, we initiated a quarterly information piece in the form of a letter that we call “OnTopic.”

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Top 16 Posts of 2016

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 others.

The Case for Investing in Nonprofit Talent
Funders’ signals often encourage nonprofits to deemphasize staff development and stress programs and projects instead.

Changing the Culture of Philanthropy: Building a Movement to Fund Real Cost
Insufficient infrastructure and limited resources don’t lead to impact.

My Family’s Foundation Entered the Policy Arena, and We Are Not Looking Back
As a philanthropist, your voice carries tremendous weight in the policy arena.

Philanthropy Lessons: Who Knows More?
Hear from leading philanthropists about building respect and trusting the people working day in and day out on the complex issues we care about.

There’s No Such Thing as Nonprofit Sustainability…and What To Do About It (Part 1) and (Part 2)
What is the role of funders in the lively topic of sustainability in the nonprofit sector?

Impact Investing: Making the Case to Your Trustees
For foundations, the early stages of impact investing lie at the board level.

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Leveraging Social Media: To Infinity and Beyond

By Erika McDaniel, Glenmede, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner

Tracking social media net­works and trends can be time-consuming even for experienced users, and likely more so for small-staffed organizations. Yet leveraging the right social media plat­forms in the right ways can lead to unprecedented levels of success. Initiatives by organizations such as the ALS Association (remember the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?), the Human Rights Campaign, and the Movember Foundation — each nimble enough to capitalize on expected and unexpected opportunities — have shown the degree to which social media campaigns can be powerful. 

Begin With the End: Determine Goals for Social Media

A social media strategy should be a component of the overall communications strategy, aligning an organization’s goals with tar­geted social media campaigns and frequent interactions. Common objectives include advocacy, information sharing, and recognizing philanthropic impact and milestone events. Different plat­forms bring distinct advantages based on particular goals. Twitter and Facebook can be useful to raise funds and promote activism, and YouTube and Vine tend to be effective for sharing successes and impact.

Last November, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with (RED) and mobile application Snapchat to raise awareness and funds to combat AIDS. For every Snapchat user who used one of the three “World AIDS Day” Geofilters in their “snaps,” the foundation donated $3 to (RED). This partnership and direct support for (RED) is part of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Initiative to “harness advances in science and technology to save lives.”

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5 Tips for New Foundation Staff

By Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation

When I started my job as a program officer at Ball Brothers Foundation a little over two years ago, I knew I had a lot to learn. There were technical aspects of working for a foundation that I knew I’d need to master (grant files, legal dos and don’ts), and it was also important for me to quickly immerse myself in the culture of the foundation…the how and the why.

I was fortunate to join a family foundation staff who helped me to jump right in and quickly learn the ropes. As I reflect back on my experience, here are my top five tips for other new foundation staff members:

1. Meet grantees in person
Relationships are critically important to grantmaking. It’s one thing to blindly review a grant request, but it’s an entirely different thing to meet an organization’s leader in person, see an organization’s facilities, talk about an organization’s challenges and opportunities, and see first-hand the organization’s impact on those it serves.

Throughout my first few months on the job, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with dozens of our foundation’s grantees. Ultimately, these meetings formed the basis for relationships with grantees that are the bedrock of the work I do as a staff member.

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