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

Continue reading

Getting Out Into the Community: Identifying Gaps and Leverage Points for Change

By Carol Gallo, The Y.C. Ho/Helen & Michael Change Foundation, and Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation 

Originally posted to GrantCraft’s blog

scanning-fb-li“It must be so fun to give money away!” It’s a reaction we’ve all heard when we tell people we are staff members or board members of a grantmaking organization. And yes, it is fun…but it’s also hard work. Good grantmaking – as we know – is about far more than reading piles of proposals or signing big checks; it’s about identifying needs, evaluating potential solutions, and thoughtfully employing dollars to make an impact.

At last year’s Exponent Philanthropy National Conference in Chicago, we presented a session with GrantCraft’s Jen Bokoff about doing just this—identifying priority needs and leveraging points for change, whether in a specific geographic region or around a particular issue area. The room was packed with foundation staff and board members interested in practical tips and tricks for “scanning” the landscape in order to inform good grantmaking.

Missed the session? Here are the top ten ideas we presented to fit a variety of timeframes, budgets, and operating styles.

1) Get your boots muddy

As grantmakers, often our best and greatest insights come when we get away from the comfort of our offices. We need to take time to really listen to and experience first-hand the work of those we fund. This is Jenna’s “muddy boots” theory. As a program officer, she keeps a pair of boots on hand that she wears to site visits to nature preserves, construction sites, etc. And they are very muddy! The insights that come from being on-the-ground (literally!) are critical for good grantmaking.

Continue reading

Thinking Big & Bold: How the Kendall Foundation Is Transforming New England’s Food System

By Mary Anthony, 1772 Foundation

In late summer of last year, Andy Kendall put foot to pedal on a Trek bicycle in Portland, Oregon. Forty days and 4,000 miles later, he rolled into Portland, Maine. At the 1772 Foundation, we were not surprised to learn of his feat: a two-wheeled version of the significant accomplishments he has made at the Boston-based Henry P. Kendall Foundation. Though established in 1957, this foundation crackles with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up company.

Five years before the cross-country trek, Andy and his staff began to put pedal to the metal to meet monumental challenges in the New England regional food system. We have been following Kendall’s success with great interest as he exemplifies what we believe are the best qualities of effective, dynamic philanthropy.

UMass dining hallOne of the best examples of Kendall’s impact is at UMass Amherst where the foundation is behind a bold transition, made possible by one of the many strategic food system grants they have made throughout New England. This campus has a total food budget of more than $21 million. With help from the Kendall Foundation, they have made a firm commitment to sourcing food thoughtfully, using local whenever possible, with back-up defaults to regional sources and those using “sustainable, humane and organic sources.” This effort resulted in a 38% increase in local sustainable food purchases by the largest university in Massachusetts.

This project and others funded by Kendall exemplify the aspects of dynamic philanthropy that we try to emulate:

Food VisionVision with a strong footing. Recognizing the merits of, and providing support for, a report entitled A New England Food Vision, Kendall Foundation embraced the vision of “50 by 60” (from Food Solutions New England). That is, by 2060, 50% of New England food will come from New England. This document is a thorough, pragmatic look at what it will take to reach that goal in terms of acres of farmland, types of food, dietary requirements, etc.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Mindful Grantmaking for Effective Results

How often do we make decisions out of our own implicit biases?

By Angela Sanchez, ECMC Foundation

On September 26, the ballroom in the Chicago Marriott hotel buzzed with an energy not typical of most Monday mornings. Exponent Philanthropy CEO Henry Berman’s opening remarks at the plenary brunch set the tone for the rest of the National Conference. With raw candor, he focused on an element that, despite being so integral to the act of giving itself, is sometimes overlooked in the processes of philanthropy: the role of empathy in effective giving.

He recounted a time when, as a foundation trustee, he elected not to fund a community reading program because it used literature by Malcolm X and James Baldwin, prominent African-American activists during the Civil Rights Movement. As a white male of higher socioeconomic status, Mr. Berman openly noted that at the root of the decision were racial differences. Mr. Berman’s disclosure was as vulnerable as it was insightful to all in attendance. He acknowledged his failure to recognize the reading program for what it was: an opportunity to change lives using culturally relevant material.

Watch the full opening remarks >>

How often do we make decisions out of our own implicit biases? What do we assume about the characteristics and behaviors of the populations we seek to empower, such as accepting that female enrollment in youth STEM summer youth programs is low because girls are less interested in math than boys. These biases can also be expressed in what we think are the needs are of the community—that contemporary students directly experiencing racism and poverty in their urban environments will find Mary Louise Alcott and Mark Twain relevant.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

You Can Go to College: It’s Not Just a Promise, It’s the Law

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts featuring grantmakers around the world, including the post below. All are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice at a local, national, or global scale. Read other posts in the series (scroll to “Related Content”) >>

By Sarah Bahn and Andrew Milner

patricktaylorIn 1989, the state of Louisiana passed a law that all children who achieve certain academic standards should be allowed to go to college regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.  This was the culmination of four years of campaigning by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, led by businessman Patrick Taylor. For funders of all sizes looking to make a bigger impact through advocacy, this is an example of how one small foundation extended an individual philanthropist’s values to generate far-reaching structural changes.

As a man from a poor family, Patrick Taylor was granted a full scholarship to Louisiana State University. He subsequently set up the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation in 1985 following success in the oil and gas industry, through which he and his wife promised to pay for 183 children from poor families in New Orleans to attend college, provided they studied diligently, maintained a certain academic standard, and stayed out of trouble.

Taylor realized that to expand his idea of a college education based on merit rather than wealth to all students, the state would have to fund it. Despite rules that must be followed when U.S.-based foundations engage in advocacy, there is a lot that taking a stance on an issue can do. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation recognized their opportunity to make major systemic change, even as a small foundation.

Continue reading

How Funders Can Help Nonprofits Leverage Their Own Data

Una Osili, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” (Lord Kelvin)

As part of their day-to-day operations, many nonprofits automatically collect data, like clients served and services provided. Whether they realize it or not, these represent a wealth of valuable data that could be leveraged to solve today’s pressing societal issues. This information could be valuable to individuals both inside and outside of the organization without having to gather new data or spend extra money.

As one of the country’s largest providers of social services, The Salvation Army recognized it had a wealth of service data that could be an asset both internally and to others. They partnered with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to explore the opportunities that existed for using their data. Ultimately, this collaboration resulted in the creation of the Human Needs Index (HNI), a new, systematic way to measure human need in the U.S. and how it is evolving.

See “Fighting Poverty With Big Data: A New Tool for Nonprofits and Their Funders”

Funders are sometimes criticized by their grantees for putting too much emphasis on data gathering. The HNI example shows that funders (and research partners) can work with grantees/nonprofits to help them leverage the data they already have, to better understand their own work and to help others in the nonprofit sector and beyond.

Continue reading