Deep Listening Starts Here

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy, and Jen Lachman, Lachman Consulting

Listening. It’s a skill we’ve been talking about a lot here at Exponent Philanthropy.


First, because we believe that listening is an essential skill for effective philanthropy. When—and only when—we listen deeply and humbly to those we serve, can we learn about their true needs and how we can partner most effectively to create meaningful change.

And second, because most people (grantmakers not excluded) are not as good at listening as we’d like to think. Listening deeply to another person takes real focus and attention, and our multitasking brains and fast-paced environments present endless distractions that make it hard for us to really tune in to what someone is saying.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’re committed to closing this skill gap and helping our members become better listeners. At our CONNECT conference in October, we’re offering a Listening Workshop that will help attendees learn, practice, and apply deep listening skills.

Jen Lachman, co-facilitator of the CONNECT Listening Workshop, offers some suggestions for how you can deepen your listening.

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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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Charlottesville Lessons: Listen to Those We Serve and Learn From Our Blind Spots

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

When events as horrific as what happened in Charlottesville erupt, many of us in philanthropy are struck with sadness, outrage, disgust, depression, shock, and terror.

While we take in all the information we can—especially the insights of trustworthy analysts and commentators—we ourselves start doing the usual punditry. We issue calls for action. We offer to provide more money and new programs to educate Americans and ourselves about hate groups, racism, and diversity. We make pledges to operate in new ways.

But let’s face it: If we really expect to make a difference, each of us needs to change how we act, and to better understand how our own biases too often get in the way of nonprofit and philanthropic leadership.

Continue reading in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required) >>

Henry Berman

Henry Berman became Exponent Philanthropy’s CEO in 2011, previously serving as acting CEO, board member, and committee member. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role.

A Compass Only Works When You Trust It

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

In philanthropy, like in life, we have relatively little ability to control disruptions, internal or external, and the big changes they often portend.

Although we may anticipate an influx of assets upon the sale of a business, or predict the arrival of the next generation, most of us can’t really manage the exact timing and collateral effects of these events.

This begs the question, What defines how each of us reacts to disruption?

In a word: values. As we think about, worry about, and react to disruptions, we do so through the lens of our own values.

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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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What Would Hippocrates Do?

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Each quarter, I write to our member donors to pass along insights I gather in my dual role as Exponent Philanthropy member and CEO, and to provide a special window onto our activities. My most recent communication—sent last month—sparked many positive notes in return. I’m pleased to share it here with our broader community, and I encourage each of you to consider supporting Exponent Philanthropy.

In the wake of January’s inauguration, President Trump has quickly demonstrated his commitment to change. I’ve spoken with people across the political spectrum in the funding and nonprofit communities, and many have been uneasy at best in these early months of 2017. Although every administration and new Congress experience growing pains, business as usual is being redefined this year. Wherever you stand politically, change certainly is in the air. 

Amid this year’s changes, I paused in my doctor’s waiting room recently, reading a brochure about new medical school graduates that referenced the Hippocratic Oath’s most famous line: First, do no harm. This triggered my thinking (and online exploring) to learn more about the oath. 

I discovered first that Hippocrates didn’t include the well-known phrase in his oath, but in another of his works, Of the Epidemics; regardless of the source, the message is one that I believe aptly applies to all of us who make grants, share knowledge, convene stakeholders, and otherwise act in pursuit of our philanthropic missions. 

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New Report Details Shifts in Foundation Operations

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

2017-fomr-cover_page_01More small-staffed foundations are engaging in activities beyond traditional grantmaking, according to Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Foundation Operations and Management Report released yesterday.

The only study that captures benchmarks for foundations that operate with few or no staff, which comprise the vast majority of the philanthropy sector, the report details trends in foundation grantmaking, operations, investments, and governance, based on responses from 495 association members.

Join Exponent Philanthropy for access or order your copy >>

The report highlights upward trends in strategies for increasing impact, including:

  • Reviewing grantmaking strategies regularly
  • Sending board members to conferences or education
  • Bringing in speakers or resources from the field
  • Gathering feedback from grantees about the foundation


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Right-Sizing a New Risk Toolkit for Your Needs

By Maya Winkelstein, Open Road Alliance, and Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

risk-toolkit-title-page-2The world of funders and philanthropists is quite diverse. Yet regardless of our size, focus, or decision-making process, we all have two things in common: First, we all want our dollars to result in real impact and change. Second, no matter how we deploy those dollars, the impact we seek is not a sure thing. In other words, every grant and investment we make carries risk.

As described in an earlier blog post, The Missing Piece of Modern Philanthropy, few funders think about, discuss, or plan for the unexpected in their work. As a 2015 survey shows, 76% of funders don’t even ask their grant applicants ‘what could go wrong,’ and when funders don’t ask, grantees don’t tell. This missed communication matters deeply, because when funders and grantees ignore risk, we jeopardize the impact we seek to achieve.

Now there is a tool to help.

In 2016, a 25-member group, called The Commons, spent six months working to create a baseline Risk Management Toolkit including how-to guides, templates, and sample protocols that any funder can adapt or adopt for its own uses.

To help small-staffed foundations, families, and individual donors more easily navigate the toolkit, we offer the following key takeaways and three “top tools” to consider to bring a greater risk awareness and practice to your work.

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It’s Day One of the Trump Era: Let’s Defend Philanthropy

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

No matter whether your candidate won or lost the race for president on Tuesday, philanthropy was dealt a serious blow during the 2016 election race.

Never in our history have the roles of two candidates’ giving records and foundations been so prominently in the spotlight, as reporters uncovered allegations of possible wrongdoing at both the Trump and Clinton foundations and grappled with basic questions about just how generous—or self-interested—they were. History was made when those topics became part of the televised presidential and vice-presidential debates this fall.

To be sure, many people in philanthropy would have been overjoyed if the real issues we all grapple with were the ones getting so much visibility. Perhaps the candidates could have challenged each other over the merits of paying nonprofits to cover their overhead costs or earmarking money for specific projects. Or they could have debated the value of volunteering and other types of contributions that benefit charities versus donations of cash.

But instead, all that Americans, and indeed a worldwide audience, heard about the topic of philanthropy were charges of wrongdoing.

Continue reading in The Chronicle of Philanthropy >>

Henry BermanHenry Berman is CEO of Exponent Philanthropy. Through his experience as a foundation co-trustee, donor advised fund holder, and Exponent Philanthropy member since 2003, he brings a firsthand understanding of the needs of members to his role. Follow Henry on Twitter @Berman_Henry.

Proud But Not Satisfied

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

At the time, I was part of a team that chose not to fund a reading program.

One of the biggest factors that influenced our decision not to provide funding was their choice of literature. I honestly don’t recall the exact titles, but suffice it to say the program was using works by Malcolm X and James Baldwin to engage the youth they were trying to teach. With our totally different backgrounds, we felt they should be reading Mark Twain or Louisa May Alcott.

What the hell was I thinking?

I proudly professed I wanted to help kids learn to read, yet in retrospect I can’t imagine being any more rude, patronizing, or inappropriate. What makes it worse—what has really bothered me all these years—is that I was so incredibly detached from the very people I was trying to help.

My point is this: We need a strong understanding of the people we are affecting; the situations we are trying to impact. That means actively listening to the ultimate populations we are trying to help; listening to all the perspectives that influence their world, not ours.

This story, my story, was part of my opening remarks last week to nearly 1,000 at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 National Conference. It wasn’t easy to share so openly among so many. But the message was too important.

As I stated later in my remarks, “We should all be proud. But we should not be satisfied.” Vast inequities persist in today’s world, and we must persevere in our belief that something better is possible. We cannot do that without acknowledging our biases, sharing our lessons, and doing the work it takes to achieve more for our communities and causes, however uncomfortable that work may be.

As the conference unfolded and its themes emerged, it became clear that we are indeed proud but not yet satisfied as a community of funders. Here is just some of what I observed. 

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