Foundations, Know Thyself

By Scott Brazda, The Stuller Family Foundation

I’ve been on local television for nearly 30 years, and the recognition that comes with it (especially to an older demographic) drives my 9-year-old son crazy. So when a middle-aged gentleman stopped me in the parking lot of a local restaurant a couple weeks ago, and wanted to know if I was “the news man,” Nick the Charming Scoundrel sighed and asked:

“Are you like the Old People’s Celebrity?”

It is what it is. I’m not sure how he specifically defines ‘old people’ (I remember thinking my Dad at 45 had to be the most ancient human being on the planet), but his analysis struck a chord with me when it came to giving. I mean, I could deny that most of the people who call my name at a ballgame or conference are over 30, but that is pretty much the truth.

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Look to Your Community Foundation in Times of Crisis

By Kristin Laird, Foundant Technologies, an Exponent Philanthropy Sustaining Partner

Everyone wants to help during a crisis, and, for many, that means giving money. But few understand what it takes to distribute funds to the people, businesses, or nonprofits that will create the greatest impact and fulfill the most need—especially if the money lives in different funds at different organizations.

Enter community foundations, which are inherently good at sharing information and resources. In fact, they do it all the time. Community foundations exist to help others do more with less and find ways to strengthen a community through common resources, ingenuity, and communication.

In the community foundation world, you should never have to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ especially with things like disaster preparedness and recovery. Our community of community foundations is amazing and collaborative.

—Bridget Wilkinson, Executive Director, Bozeman Area Community Foundation

When Disaster Strikes


On the evening of July 30, [2016] a severe thunderstorm moved into the area of Ellicott City where it dumped an estimated 6 inches (15 cm) of rain in two hours. The flash flood that resulted inflicted severe damage to the area primarily on Main Street. Many homes, businesses, sidewalks, and landmarks were damaged by the flooding, with the city’s landmark clock being one of those impacted. A state of emergency was declared… [read more]

The flooding in Ellicott City spurred a downtown business group to raise funds, but left them with the (not unusual) conundrum of how best to distribute the money. The dilemma is remembered by Foundant’s Client Success Manager Aaron Spevacek:

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Top 5 Ways to Make an Impact Beyond Grantmaking

By Glenmede, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner

Originally distributed as part of Glenmede’s Top 5 series

While grantmaking remains one of the most powerful ways for philanthropists to create an impact, new ways of thinking have inspired philanthropists to leverage additional strategies.

Become a Strategic Partner, Not Just a Funding Source

Grantmakers have the ability to impact grantees in a number of ways beyond providing funds. By strategically partnering with your grantees, you can gain a better understanding of the issues and challenges they face. Your partnership may open new opportunities for your grantees through providing access to mentorship, education, training or even new staff and team members. You likely have relationships and other connections that could benefit the organizations you support in a variety of ways.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Have you ever considered working alongside the organizations that you fund? One of the most mutually beneficial and impactful experiences for organizations and their grantees is to work alongside one another. As a funder, you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the projects and programs you are supporting while building a deeper connection with your grantees. For grantees, these moments provide an opportunity to see you as more than a funding source and learn more about the mission, vision and values of your organization.

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Going Beyond the Grant in Rural Communities

By James P. McCrary, philanthropic consultant

Small funders have a limited amount of grantmaking capacity and, to be impactful, must think about how to use those funds strategically to help their key nonprofit partners become more stable and proficient. This requires the funder to develop a more familiar relationship with the grantee—understanding its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and be prepared to provide technical assistance (directly or through qualified consultants) as needed. This is particularly important in small rural communities that have fewer nonprofit agencies to work through.

Multi-role nonprofits

For nine years, I served in a professional grantmaking role at a community foundation that had a five-county footprint. Our core county was flush with nonprofit agencies and resources, but three of our four outlying counties had much less to work with. In some cases, a single rural county nonprofit had many identities (e.g., food pantry, utility bill assistance, mental health service referrals, substance abuse treatment, transportation assistance, domestic violence intervention, and emergency housing).

In underserved rural communities, using philanthropic resources strategically must include organizational development and capacity building of “multi-role nonprofits” that act as social services clearinghouses and safety nets. As community dependence on these “multi-roles” increases, such nonprofits must be in position to make well-informed decisions in the boardroom, to create partnerships, to have a reliable source of core operating dollars so grant dollars can be dedicated to strategic needs, and to make a case for support that will inspire donors who want their contributions to have a perceptible impact.

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Increase Your Impact: Invest in Nonprofit Staff

Fund the People announces Fund the People Toolkit—the most comprehensive guide for maximizing investment in the nonprofit workforce

Nonprofit organizations will always need good people. And these people will always need support to successfully do their work. As a funder or grantee, how do you know which investments will make the biggest difference? And how do you move past fads, shiny objects, and other noise in the social sector to improve your efforts?

One of the most effective strategies for improving the impact and performance of nonprofit organizations is to invest in the nonprofit workforce. When you intentionally deploy resources to build the support systems that enable staff development, you’re able to advance equity, inclusion, performance, impact, and sustainability at the organizations. This improves program and services outcomes, which has benefits that extend far beyond the organization.

So where do you start?

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Thoughtful, Informed Philanthropy in the Wake of Disaster

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Nature is at once powerfully beautiful and destructive.

August’s awe-inspiring solar eclipse brought us together regardless of our stations in life. However different in heritage, race, politics, wealth, interests, or beliefs, we all share our planet.

In contrast to our awe at the solar eclipse, those outside Harvey’s and Irma’s cones of destruction have, from the comfort of our homes, borne witness to unbearable conditions ranging from loss of property to loss of life. As these storms deliver unimaginable destruction with wind and water, many westerners are facing forest fires that likewise consume all in their paths.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by disasters, and we send our admiration to first responders, women and men of the National Guard, and others risking their own safety to help.

As philanthropists, many of us are in a position to offer assistance, and we should. From prior disasters like these, we know disaster recovery is not a short-term endeavor. Many will face a long road ahead.

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New to Grantmaking? I Was Too

By Amy Liebman Rapp, Alex Cares for Grieving Youth

Within hours of the September 11 World Trade Center terrorist attack, my voicemail and email were overloaded with requests for services from corporations, mental health agencies, and schools. All were looking for assistance in how to help adult survivors cope with the sudden traumatic death of their loved ones and support the grieving children and teens whose parents had died in the towers.

I accepted several challenging opportunities that included working with the American Red Cross and the Aon Corporation, but the most intriguing call came in early 2002 from a board member of a recently formed charitable foundation called A Little Hope.

The founder, Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader Whitney Siderman Michaels, was on her honeymoon in Hawaii with her husband Evan, while Cantor Fitzgerald’s corporate headquarters, located on floors 101 to 105 of the North Tower, were destroyed. A staggering 658 employees died. As Whitney and Evan attended numerous memorial services, they witnessed many bereaved children now having to face life without their mother or father and wanted to find a way to offer them hope for the future.

The board of directors were seeking a mental health professional with expertise in childhood bereavement to join the board and wanted to meet with me. In addition to my clinical thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) practice, I had been president of the board of a nonprofit children’s after school organization and had an extensive business background. After meeting the founders, I agreed to become the foundation’s clinical advisor and a (volunteer) founding board member. The first fundraising gala in lower Manhattan took place just three months later in June 2002, and more than $200,000 was raised.

The strategic plan was to establish a granting organization that would provide emotional support for the surviving children of September 11 who experienced the death of a parent. Many of the board members were highly skilled individuals working in the corporate sector (hedge funds, banking, accounting, law, and insurance), but no one had any previous board experience. I realized that with prior board experience and a current network of colleagues in the bereavement field, the executive committee of A Little Hope was looking to me to spearhead the granting initiative.

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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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