Let’s Play to Our Strengths

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.

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Philanthropy and Complex Problems: Being Real, Stepping Into Leadership (4 Years Later)

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.”

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Networks Move the Needle

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.

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

***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.

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.

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Philanthropists Must Reset Government Leaders’ Expectations

By Sue Santa, legal consultant

Two weeks into the new administration finds both major political parties, as well as many of Washington’s systems, on uncertain footing.

Republican control of the executive and legislative branches has not automatically ensured a unified agenda; the President is not a typical Republican, and the House and Senate are not fully aligned on priorities. The slim Republican majority in the Senate means that a few votes cast outside of party lines can disrupt expected legislative wins. Adding to the uncertainty, many of the 600-plus federal appointments that come with a normal transition of administrations remain unfilled, putting government agency work plans on pause.

Despite the political tumult, the current administration already has provided considerable clues to its general direction (and even early action) to those of us who focus on the nonprofit sector: decreased federal expenditures on social programs. Recent actions toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the predilections of many secretary nominees, and the hiring freeze all point toward shifting priorities and shrinking federal budgets.

Government leaders, unfortunately, may be presuming that the nonprofit sector—and philanthropy generally—will step in to fill any vacuums in service or funding created from federal pull-backs. But these expectations do not align with the math. As David Callahan, writing in Inside Philanthropy, notes in his recent article, the nonprofit sector accounts for just 5 percent of GDP, and Americans’ annual donations to charity would fuel the federal government for only about 34 days. Nonprofit organizations, some of which rely heavily on government funds, would tell you that resources are already insufficient.

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Why Our Community Foundation Partners With State Legislators to Improve Policies and Address Needs

By Rose Bradshaw, North Texas Community Foundation

Texas State CapitolThe Texas Capitol is big. The tip of its dome is almost fifteen feet taller than its counterpart in Washington, DC. Decisions made there impact almost thirty million people. When you enter the building, you can feel the seriousness, history, and purpose. For anyone who believes in democracy and representative government, it is downright awe-inspiring.

Recently, I found myself again walking its corridors, but this time was different. Our foundation was leading a policy briefing on foster care for legislative staffers from across Texas. More than 75 staffers from some of the most influential senators and representatives had gathered to learn what they could do to improve policies impacting the most vulnerable children in Texas. Our legislative sponsors were key committee chairs from both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

We were not lobbying. We were educating our state legislators about the real conditions in their districts and about solutions that have been tested with our private dollars.

The federal courts have ordered Texas to fundamentally reform its foster care system. For the past three years foundations and donors in our community have committed resources to enable ACH, a leading child welfare organization, to develop an effective, community-based approach to foster care. Now the Texas legislature is interested in implementing this community-centered approach statewide, a strategy that philanthropy has proven to work.

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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.

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Foundation Executives: Make This a Year You Invest in Your Leadership

By Leslie Sholl Jaffe, independent consultant 

For many years, Exponent Philanthropy has offered programming and resources geared to the unique needs of foundation executive directors. This spring, it will be my privilege to again serve as co-faculty for Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Master Juggler Executive Institute, a unique 6-month peer learning opportunity for those in the most senior staff role at their foundations. Learn more about the Master Juggler Executive Institute >>

Leadership development is key to creating long-term sustainable systems within our organizations, and executive directors are at the heart of these systems.

Having spent the first 15 years of my career in the for-profit world working in large corporations, I was witness to the tremendous investment made by organizations in their most valuable assets: their people, who received training and development relevant to their leadership positions.

Nonprofit leaders and foundation executive directors are no less talented than their counterparts in the for-profit world, and the demands placed on them are no less than the demands placed on other chief executives. The greatest differential is the amount of investment made in their ongoing leadership development.

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Trust Is Essential to Changemaking; Funders Must Take the First Step

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy, and Colleen O’Keefe, Sauer Family Foundation

In any group or in any relationship, trust is the feeling that allows people to work toward common purpose. Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs. But more than that, trust allows us to be ourselves, to be creative, use our talents and skills, and take risks. Where there is trust, we feel empowered to try new things, and take advantage of opportunities.

Where there is trust, we feel safe enough to be vulnerable. This is really powerful. It means we can share challenges and problems, offer new ideas, and provide honest feedback. By being able to be honest and open, we make it more possible for problems to be addressed, and good ideas to be considered and put into action.

For all its power, trust is often elusive, difficult to build or keep.

What Creates Trust?

The foundations of trust have to do with a feeling of safety. And at organizations, a feeling of safety comes from the leaders, the people who have formal authority and power. The management expert and thought leader Simon Sinek explains (TED Radio Hour on NPR, originally broadcast May 15, 2015):

The sense of feeling safe comes first. So when we feel safe, trust will emerge. This is what the foundations of leadership really are. The reason we call someone leader, is because they choose to go first. They choose to extend trust first, even before maybe any signs have been offered that they should.

It is the willingness to express empathy before anyone else. When we assess that someone would do that, and we see that they have that integrity, and they would willingly sacrifice their interests for our lives, we cannot help ourselves. The natural human response is trust.

As human beings, if those especially in leadership positions express empathy for our well being, we reward them with our trust, and our loyalty, our love, to see that their vision and the company is advanced.

We forget that these very human things require us to sacrifice. And it can come in any form, you know, time or energy. But I think the foundation of trust really is the willingness to sacrifice for another.

Opening Up Authentic Conversations With Grantees

The lack of trust between funder and grantee remains one of the biggest barriers to impact in philanthropy. Without open, honest conversations, funders can’t learn what nonprofits really need to deliver outcomes desired by funders, grantees, and most of all—people and communities in need.

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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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