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.

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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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Try These 7 Methods to Get to a Giving Focus

The Foundation GuidebookExponent Philanthropy recently revised The Foundation Guidebook, our signature publication for those new to foundations or philanthropy. Below is an excerpt from the 128-page resource. Get your copy >>

Many foundations use a combination of methods to settle on a focus. Once you consider the approaches that follow, it is important to recognize when you may need help. Some boards are able to facilitate productive discussions themselves, but others have greater success by engaging outside facilitators. Because agreement on a focus is of paramount importance, money for a consultant, if needed, is money well spent.

Board members often must do the hard work of clarifying their own values and passions before they can articulate them for the entire board. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than one meeting to arrive at consensus on a focus.

The following are some drivers for finding a common focus among decision makers.

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How Do We Know If We Are Making a Difference?

By Rob DiLeonardi, VNA Foundation

How do we know if our grants are making a difference? It’s a question that has probably haunted funders ever since the first grant was made.

Yet, it is a question with many answers, and no single answer that is best for everyone. To find out which of the many answers might best apply to your work, please consider joining me at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 National Conference next month, where I will be a presenter at a session entitled “Assessing Your Foundation’s Impact.”

“The question of how to assess impact it is exactly the type of topic that, 20+ years ago, I dreamed of being able to discuss with colleagues from other smaller foundations like my own.”

The topic of impact is near and dear to me, for two reasons. First, the foundation which I’ve had the privilege of helping lead for many years now, the VNA Foundation in Chicago, puts a high priority on ensuring that our grants make an impact—and we measure that impact in a variety of interesting ways.

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From Our Work With 1,000 Funders, Here Are Three Tips for Measuring Impact

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

There is no doubt that measuring impact is the hottest trend in philanthropy today. How can our organization track the outcomes our grants are having? How can we track more useful information to make better decisions?

At Foundant, we hear iterations of these questions regularly.

From working with almost 1,000 grantmakers, we’ve identified some steps you can take to make this process more consistent and accurate, and to build commitment within your organization and among your grantees.

Step one: Alignment means everyone understands the plan

Probably the biggest challenge to ensure success in measuring results is getting everyone on the same page and doing things the same way. To be successful:

  • The board needs to agree on what the organization is trying to accomplish.
  • The staff needs to be consistent in how they accept and manage grantee reports.
  • The grantees need to understand why and how this data needs to be reported accurately.

Easier said than done! Fortunately, there are tools out there to help. Exponent Philanthropy has many resources available, including a great tool called the 10-Minute Impact Assessment to use with your board. Foundation Center also has several resources available to help you and your grantees define an impact strategy.

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Like/Love/Haha/Wow/Sad/Angry…and Better Philanthropy Support?

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Photo credit: Facebook

Photo credit: Facebook

Last month, Facebook released its new “Reactions” feature, expanding the original Like to Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. According to Wired magazine, “Mark Zuckerberg had finally conceded that the platform needed a more nuanced way for users to interact with posts, for the obvious reason that not every post is likable.”

A likely outcome is that users will be more willing to share with the possibility of receiving more supportive reactions. Granted, whether we should be so knee-jerk to what we see flash on a screen is fodder for another discussion, but encouraging people to share more and, in turn, receive support from peers, that’s a good thing, right?

It’s left me thinking, what can those of us at philanthropy support organizations—this large universe of advisors and infrastructure groups—do to help philanthropists share ideas, practices, activities, and opinions so we can all learn, improve, and make a more significant impact? I have some ideas!

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A Powerful Kind of Call and Response

A community funder on the power of seeking grantee feedback and being responsive

This past summer, Exponent Philanthropy released Outsized Impact 2015, which centers around the stories of 7 inspiring funders, including the one below. Download the full Outsized Impact report >>

Newaygo County, MI, home to Fremont Area Community Foundation

The bucolic backdrop of Newaygo County, Michigan, looks like a living, breathing postcard. More than 350 miles of waterways glisten with natural splendor, and trees topped withjewel-colored leaves stretch for acres. Its beauty makes it an attraction for outdoorsy tourists and a point of pride for people who call it home.

Inside that picturesque wealth, Fremont Area Community Foundation serves Newaygo County’s network of five rural towns and 50,000 residents.

Preserving the county’s natural resources is one of the foundation’s five primary focuses, along with community and economic development, education, nonprofit sustainability, and poverty reduction. The challenge for the community foundation, one of the largest per capita in the country, is to avoid overextending any of its limited resources in the process of doing the work in those areas. It’s an often complicated science of weighing priorities against funding and support.

“When you’re working in that space, you can have the ‘S.T.P.’—the same ten people—and you find yourself tapping the same individuals for multiple things,” says program officer Wes Miller. “Grassroots organizations have limited capacity, so we have to be cognizant of how often we’re engaging them and making sure we’re doing that in a strategic fashion.”

The importance of actively listening to grantees is something he’s learned in his four years with the foundation. Findings from a grantee perception report prompted broad, empowering conversations about what the foundation is doing right and what it could be doing better.

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New Video Series and Campaign Calling for Your Philanthropy Lessons

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

Unlike in any other business, our fellow funders in this business of philanthropy are not our competitors. They’re our colleagues, mentors, confidantes, champions, and friends. And we need one another to maximize our collective impact.

Today, made possible by the candid sharing of some of our industry’s most inspiring funders and their sage grantee partners, we are pleased to announce a new 9-part “Philanthropy Lessons” video series produced by Exponent Philanthropy, funded by the Fund for Shared Insight, and released in partnership with The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In each video, funders and their grantees share lessons learned throughout their careers—words of wisdom they have gained along the way. By sharing openly and honestly, they offer ways for each of us to be even more efficient and effective in creating the change we want to see in the world. Their openness also serves as a model we can follow in sharing our own lessons learned.

The corresponding campaign calls for you to share your most important philanthropy lessons. I encourage you to watch the videos and share your philanthropy lesson online or on social media using hashtag #MyPhilLesson.

Today, we release two videos in the series. Others will be released monthly through June. Please share the videos widely, then take a few minutes to share your most valuable philanthropy lesson on each video theme.

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Relationships That Run Deep

This past summer, Exponent Philanthropy released the report Outsized Impact 2015, which centers around the stories of 7 inspiring funders, including the story below. Download the full Outsized Impact report >>

Sasha_headshotSasha Rabsey woke up unusually early on a Tuesday morning when her dog barked out of the blue. Still bleary-eyed, she logged onto email to check in with her grant partners in Nepal on their recovery progress. It was then she saw the news: Another earthquake had hit. The second in a week.

“I’m sorry I’m not on top of my game this morning,” she says, clearly shaken by the news. It’s no wonder this hits her personally. Sasha has deep relationships with her grant partners in Nepal as well as other parts of the world. “My philanthropy is about women and about depths of relationship.”

As founder and director of The HOW Fund, a donor advised fund she established 8 years ago, Sasha has supported mentorship programs for women and girls worldwide, and she has been on the ground with partners in many of these countries. She also co-founded the Present Purpose Network, a group of highly engaged women funders in the United States and Europe making grassroots grants through a collective action fund.

Her passion for philanthropy was born in the bush of Africa.

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15 Top Posts From 2015

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 more.

New Regulations Spotlight Nonprofit Overhead
New rules that rewrote the book on federal grantmaking.

Are Your Trustees Involved Too Much—or Too Little—in Grantmaking?
What can you do to find a better balance?

10 Tips to Boost Your Facilitation Skills
Skillful facilitation can make your meetings more efficient, engaging, and enjoyable for all involved.

Top Resources for Philanthropists With Few or No Staff
Top resources from our shop and trusted colleague organizations.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Capacity Building Support: A Metrics Menu
Get reasonable benchmarks for evaluating capacity building support.

Reducing the Burden on Our Grantseekers and Ourselves
How and why one funder reduced its grant application from 6 pages to 1.

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