This article was originally published by NPQ online, on April 26, 2017,
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.
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?
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:
- Mutually beneficial
- Relaxed not rushed
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.
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.
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.
By Jonathan Solari, Working Capital for Community Needs
In times of uncertainty, additional pressure will inevitably be put on all forms of philanthropy. Need increases, and the donors, investors, and institutions who can think creatively and uphold their commitments must carry the additional weight. The result of carrying that weight? Strength.
As Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) became an Exponent Philanthropy member in 2016, we celebrated the beginning of our Loan Fund’s 25th anniversary. This milestone gave the organization reason to discover lessons from its founding as a way to navigate the market’s modern moment.
In the 1980s, WCCN was the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, a group that brought the sister-state program of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress to life with tangible results. Cultural exchanges, delivery of goods, and educational programs were building bridges between the socially responsible of Wisconsin and the working poor of Nicaragua. But, as the Latin American country braced itself for revolution, the American government instated an embargo that was meant to stop all exchanges.
What was meant to be a blockade turned into a hurdle to those first WCCN lenders, which evolved to a launching pad for a revolutionary idea. The first WCCN loan of $5,000 was meant not as a new business model, but as a creative solution invented from necessity.
More than four years ago, our Andy Carroll penned two blog posts on the role of funders in addressing complex problems. Struck by their relevance still today, we re-run them here for those who have joined our community since then. Read other posts in our series on philanthropic leadership >>
Original post by Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy, November 16, 2012
In the wake of the recent election campaign, I’ve been thinking about our country being divided, and things being “stuck.” We know that by collaborating we could accomplish big things, but we still don’t come together. Conflict, disagreement, and gridlock are common in our national discourse, at a community level, and also within organizations, friendships, and families.
Sometimes it seems like humanity, in the words of one popular songwriter, is a “bunch of whining, fighting shmoes.”
The important work of many small funders—to build opportunity, promote health, reduce hunger and suffering, and protect the environment—is often undercut or compromised by disagreements between competing factions. And divisiveness is only one among a set of complex problems that ensnarl their philanthropy and the nonprofits they support. Another complex problem is culture that is embedded and resistant to change.
I don’t think complex problems are acknowledged openly enough. Many funders who keep asking how they can have more impact eventually come up against challenges that are too big for them to solve alone.
For example, when funders talk about the following issues, they are talking about complex problems:
- “We’re funding this very effective training program for people with prior drug problems and people who have been incarcerated. The program faces major government funding cuts, which will only increase recidivism and burden our society with even greater costs.”
- “We’re funding the training of elementary teachers in this creative, highly effective teaching technique. But we realized the teachers’ class sizes are huge. They’re too overwhelmed to consider the new approach.”
- “The insurance companies in our state won’t pay for a certain intervention, which we know is proven and effective. We can’t get traction.”
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
If you invite Melissa Jones to a meeting, she’ll say all the things other people are afraid to say out loud. “People know I’ll rabble-rouse,” she says. Jones is an individual donor, a partner in the donor collaborative Social Venture Partners, and a consultant who connects nonprofits to networks and systems of change.
One example: She believes more foundations should sunset. “I want to destroy all the benefits foundations get year after year. How about this? You get one tax break when you start a foundation, and that’s it. If people want to talk the talk about reallocating wealth, let’s do it. I would rather see foundations spend their money now rather than perpetuate for years.”
Nonprofits have proliferated in America since the 1970s and even more so since 9/11, but we’re not moving the dial on social problems, she says. In some cases, we’re slipping back.
***If you are looking for Sue Santa’s “News From Washington,” please follow this link.***
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.
One 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:
Vision 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.