What the Law Requires When Making Grants

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

Many people say the U.S. government imposes too many regulations and too much paperwork on our economy. Although everyone doesn’t feel this way, it’s a pretty common refrain.

One arena very free of government requirements is foundation grants to public charities. Yet many people who work in foundations and many professional advisors to foundations—attorneys, accountants, and consultants—are not aware of this freedom.

Project Streamline, an initiative of PEAK Grantmaking, is trying to get the word out. Several years ago, Project Streamline worked with legal experts to find out exactly what the IRS requires private foundations to do when making grants.

The answer might be shocking.

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How You Can Discern and Inspire Promising New Ideas—Before Anyone Else

By John Richardson, Blackstone Ranch Institute

Many foundations avoid being the first funder of new initiatives. For the Blackstone Ranch Institute, being first-in is often the ultimate sweet spot.

For over a decade, our foundation has been placing early philanthropic investments in a broad range of new initiatives in the environment and sustainability fields. Very often they have been the first grant. The majority of them have grown into significant networks, campaigns, or organizational efforts that have moved those fields forward in meaningful and substantial ways. During that time, many have asked how we know how to choose the right grantees, and how we know whether or not their proposed initiatives have real promise.

Whereas part of our ability comes from experience and intuition (as in, does this feel right?), a number of considerations go into our initial assessment of opportunity that allow us to base an intuition upon a solid foundation. Our hunches, in that sense, are carefully calculated hunches.

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Why Invest in Volunteer Engagement?

By Jane Leighty Justis, The Leighty Foundation

Foundations large and small are always looking for leverage. Where and how can we invest our limited assets in ways that will produce the best returns? Will organizations we funded in the past survive these times of shrinking resources and growing needs? As investors in the nonprofit sector seeking innovative opportunities to maximize our efforts, we must challenge ourselves to better support and build organizational capacity.

A logical and often overlooked solution is supporting effective volunteer engagement and the infrastructure that sustains it.

When creating our family foundation, we agreed that supporting organizations in building their capacity to engage volunteers would increase their ability to accomplish their missions, and, therefore, their long-term sustainability. This strategy has provided a tremendous return on our investment.

For example, in 2011 the Pikes Peak Volunteer Engagement Initiative sought to increase the effectiveness of nonprofit volunteer engagement strategies in the Colorado Springs, CO area. The goal was to enhance organizations’ capacity to fulfill their missions and meet community needs. The Leighty Foundation funded and led a five-year Initiative to increase the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the region. We invested in individual organizations through Volunteer Impact Grants, in the community through securing experts to provide training support to dozens of organizations, and in the future through our support of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence as host of the ongoing work.

In its first phase, the Initiative convened and connected board and executive leaders, staff members, and volunteers to identify needs and issues related to volunteer engagement. In addition, we fostered peer exchange and learnings through a community-wide symposium on volunteer engagement, seminars, and reflection gatherings.

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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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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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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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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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With a Staff I Can Count on One Hand

By Jamie Serino, MicroEdge + Blackbaud

Can we really make a difference where it matters?

Sometimes, it can be easy to go down a mental road of believing the world’s problems are so big that we need massive piles of money and a vast staff to truly effect change. If you’re part of a smaller foundation, you may have even caught yourself thinking this way at one point or another.

Can small foundations with limited staff and limited assets make a big difference?

“Absolutely,” says Exponent Philanthropy CEO Henry Berman.

I spoke recently with Henry, also co-trustee of a $20 million foundation. One of the most powerful undercurrents to our conversation was Henry’s focus on empowering smaller foundations to deepen their ability to achieve impact.

During our conversation, Henry discussed three areas in particular that really stood out to me.

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Mentoring Young Adults in the Youth Philanthropy Movement

By Sammie Holzwarth, Foundant Technologies

At Foundant Technologies—provider of online grants management solutions for grantmakers and grantseekers—we have always been supporters of the youth philanthropy movement. We began as early sponsors and supporters of Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led peer advisory network for young people involved in philanthropy. We attended their conferences and even joined them during their on-the-road events in 2015.

Mark Larimer, our VP of Marketing and Client Success, and I were amazed time and time again at how thoughtful and professional the participating youth, ages 8–21, were at making real granting decisions.

It was on the road in 2015 that Mark and I discussed starting a youth philanthropy project in our hometown of Bozeman, MT. Right away I was excited to be involved and work hands-on with the young adults in our community, helping them learn about our community’s needs and the grantmaking process.

Now, in my second year of our Youth Giving Project, I have some tips for those of you who, like me, may have limited experience mentoring youth. Heck, most days I feel like I’m their age myself! These may seem like simple tips—because they are. A youth philanthropy project should be the product of the participants, not the adults advising them.

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