Foundation Catalyzes Change in Support for First-Gen College Students

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

At seven years old, Treven Treece of Morristown, Tennessee, decided he wanted to go to college. He would be the first in his family to do it. With no one to guide him, Treven had no idea how college worked. He applied to the University of Memphis and, as a first-generation college student, won a First Scholars® award that he says changed his life.

The Suder Foundation in Plano, Texas, created the First Scholars program in 2009 with a goal to dramatically increase the graduation rates of first-generation students like Treven—those who were the first in their family to go on to higher education. Entrepreneurs Deborah and Eric Suder had endowed scholarships prior to help mid-range academic, needs-based students get to school. “We naïvely thought that financial aid would assure their success. This was not the case,” says Eric. They learned that only 36% of first-generation students nationally were graduating. First-gen students face distinct challenges that many legacy students do not: They are less academically prepared, often more financially strained, and have a harder time transitioning into college.

First Scholars“When we started First Scholars, there were limited programs geared solely toward first-gen students, and those in existence focused on the freshman year only,” says Eric. “We reasoned that if we could address and mitigate, or even eliminate, the challenges common to many first-gen students, then we could bridge the gaps to help them stay in school and graduate.”

First Scholars awards incoming cohorts of 20 first-gen students $20,000 over four years at its six active university partners. Students engage in holistic programming that tends to their academic and financial needs as well as personal, professional, and social needs.
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Small Steps Toward Changing a Community’s Narrative

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

Bill Young isn’t new to humanitarian work. He’s been doing it for several decades, including 14 visits to Vietnam and 16 trips to Myanmar (Burma), where he participated in projects on clean water, education, housing, and more. “Those powerful years shaped me into the person I am and the passion I have for service today,” he says.

As executive director of the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation, Young’s passion is now focused on a small neighborhood in Hagerstown, Maryland, called Bester, defined only by a few streets and a railroad. There are no local service resources here; all of its residents must travel a great distance for social services, medical care, infant care, and even a major grocery store. Countywide, Bester has the highest number of children not living with a biological parent. Children can be found living on a neighbor’s couch, raised by a grandmother or an aunt, living in abandoned cars, going hungry.

“We knew we could make a difference if we were willing to commit to a long-term reinforcing and rebuilding of this community,” said Young. “This is the heart and the focus of the major project of our foundation.”

In 2014, the foundation committed infrastructure funding for the new Bester Community of Hope, an initiative of San Mar Children’s Home, one of its grantees. In partnership with the Casey Family Programs in Seattle, San Mar aims to safely reduce the number of children placed outside their homes by building “communities of hope.”

“The first thing we did was listen to the community and how it articulates its needs. Then we found a way to build support systems into the existing structure—so instead of the community going out for services, the services are offered right there.” For example, Bester Community of Hope partnered with the Community Free Clinic to provide healthcare to the children who needed care.

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Reclaiming Hope in Houston

Exponent Philanthropy just released Outsized Impact 2016, our third annual e-publication filled with inspiring funder stories and stats to illustrate the power of those who give with few or no staff, including the story below. Read Outsized Impact 2016 >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

In Houston, the largest city in Texas, the atrocity of human trafficking is hiding in plain sight. The Department of Justice estimates that 25% of trafficked victims pass through Houston at some point. This issue touches all; victims include all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. It is a complex, large-scale, community, and global problem.

This is the challenge that Rebecca Hove, director of strategic philanthropy at the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF), confronts daily. The epidemic of human trafficking requires creative and collaborative solutions and, as convenor of an anti-human trafficking donor working group, GHCF has built a team of individuals, foundations, and corporations who want to help.

“We have one founding principle: Members of the group are committed to change. We’re here to get things done, not just talk about it,” she says. “Everything we do at GHCF is donor-centered. We listen to what donors want, and we respond. A donor with ties to this community wanted to do something about human trafficking, and she asked GHCF if we would join her.” GHCF said yes.

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How Funders Can Support Grantees’ Storytelling

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, PhilanthroComm

Storytelling is a powerful tool for change. The right stories—shared well—have unlimited potential to raise awareness and resources, and inspire action. How many of your grantee partners are sharing their stories in a strategic way? And how can you, as a funder, support your partners in sharing stories that matter?

Since before 2000, the Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC, has been interested in helping grantees raise money from individual donors. “Donors want to emotionally connect to an organization’s work, and nonprofits need storytelling to make that happen.”

“Program officers typically look at a nonprofit’s communications,” says Rick Moyers, Meyer Foundation vice president of programs and communications, “and then visit the organization and see the work they are actually doing. There’s often a moment when we realize their written materials don’t convey the power of the work they do. They are strapped for resources, and communications is often the lowest priority.”

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Spending Up Now, Not Later

Exponent Philanthropy recently released Outsized Impact 2016, our third annual e-publication filled with inspiring funder stories and stats to illustrate the power of those who give with few or no staff, including the story below. Read Outsized Impact 2016 >>

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Between now and 2017, Quixote Foundation will give away its entire endowment.

June Wilson will never forget her job interview for director of operations at the foundation, where she is now executive director. It was December 2007, and toward the end of the interview process, the board said—by the way—you have to know that our last grant will go out in 2016 and the foundation will wrap up in 2017.

In 2011, the year Quixote announced its plan to "spend up," the extended Team Quixote met in Central Washington for a two-day planning and team-building summit | Photo credit: Quixote Foundation

An extended Team Quixote meets for a planning and team-building summit | Photo credit: Quixote Foundation

That might have deterred most people, but not Wilson. “I thought, ‘Wow! What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to craft an exit and see what can happen over time,’” she says.

It’s not about ‘spending down’ for Quixote Foundation. They call it ‘spending up,’ because they are putting the money to work in a way that ignites their mission to support free people in fair societies on a healthy planet.

“Spending up focuses on the idea of fulfillment. It’s not about a sunset or diminishment mentality,” says Wilson. “We know we can have a greater impact by using all our money for catalytic change now instead of doling out modest grants indefinitely.”

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Inside Look at a Funder Collaborative

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

The Ohio Transformation Fund (OTF) wants to change its state’s justice system from one of mass jailing, particularly of young people and people of color, to one based on stable families, economic security, and access to health care and education. It began with the vision of a national funder building a model together with local funders and key partner organizations.

In early 2015, after considerable research of criminal justice reform, the Ford Foundation identified Ohio as a place with potential for statewide change.

“Whereas criminal justice reform is getting a lot of attention at present, in many states, the issue has historically been an issue that politicians and funders don’t want to touch,” says OTF executive director Judy Wright. “In Ohio, leaders on both sides of the political spectrum agree that we have the opportunity now to get something done.” Pair that with Ohio’s long history of organizing capacity, grassroots strength, and committed group of funders invested in safe communities.

Inviting Fund Partners

The Ford Foundation invested $1M to the Fund, with a matching requirement to raise half that amount. The Fund then approached Ohio-based funders, or those who have invested in Ohio, in any of three areas: community organizing, policy/advocacy work in criminal justice, and civic engagement. “Our theory of change is that, whereas each of these areas is important and necessary, none on its own can create sustainable, statewide change,” says Wright.

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Sabbaticals for Nonprofit Leaders and Their Funders

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

Funders are supporting sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders—and taking sabbaticals themselves—as a way to step back from professional identity, let go of routine, and restore their energy for the long haul. 

The Durfee Foundation has been a leader in funding nonprofit executive sabbaticals for 20 years. “Since the beginning, our board has focused on leadership and investing in strong individuals who make a difference,” says foundation president Carrie Avery. “What we observed was a lot of nonprofit executive directors who loved their jobs, but left their jobs, because they were burning out.” “We wondered,” continues Avery, “‘What if we could offer people a safe space to step back, take a breather, and return to their organizations after a period of rest and reflection?’”

Now every other year, the Durfee Sabbatical program offers up to six stipends of $45,000 for nonprofit executives to travel, reflect, or otherwise renew themselves in whatever way they choose, for a minimum of 3 consecutive months.

Yet sabbaticals are much more than time to “rest and feel good,” says Avery. Sabbaticals elevate leadership and increase organizational capacity. “Time and again, after leaders return from sabbatical, their organizations take a big leap in creativity and productivity. This is a powerful organizational effectiveness tool.”

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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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Readying Your Philanthropy for an Influx of Assets

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

Ramping up—or significantly increasing charitable giving or activities—can be an empowering transition point in your philanthropy. It can also leave you bewildered by the complexities that come with your new normal.

What does it mean to ramp up in response to an influx of assets—perhaps the most common reason funders increase their charitable giving and/or activities? Here’s how one family foundation is managing this transition.

Case Study: The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation

When Texas oil giant George Mitchell died in July 2013 at age 94, he left behind a thriving family of 10 children, 23 grandchildren, and 5 greatgrandchildren. A lifelong environmentalist, Mitchell signed the Giving Pledge committing the majority of his wealth to charity. Upon his death, he bequeathed an estimated $750 million to the family foundation he and his wife (who died in 2009) established in 1978—The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

The foundation, which to date has been operating with $115 million in assets and a small staff of three, is now charged with ramping up its operations to prepare for this influx of assets—expected in full by 2018.

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Telling Your Story on Social Media: Family Funders Share Tips

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

This post originally appeared on Philanthropy Writing: The Heart of Giving (February 26, 2014).

Family foundations are a modest bunch. Most prefer operating quietly in the background, out of the limelight, away from any undue attention. What this means is that, many foundations—particularly those that keep their operations on the smaller side—have been slow to take advantage of social media.

This is starting to change. Foundations are finding that social media is important for advocating for the causes they care about, and deepening community connections. In a recent National Center for Family Philanthropy webinar Telling Your Story to Maximize Community Impact, four funders shared how they use social media, and why.

The most compelling reason: “If you don’t define yourself, others will define you,” said Jay Ruderman, president of The Ruderman Family Foundation. Sure, social media means putting yourself out there—which, for family foundations, can mean increased exposure and more funding requests. Yet foundations have a tremendous power to leverage the stories they tell—and their stories can help grantees. Here are more lessons learned:

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