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.

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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.

5 Tips for Using Simple Convenings for Intentional Learning

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group

This post originally appeared on Putnam Consulting Group’s Philanthropy 411 blog (July 3, 2017). Kris’s tips apply to all types of convenings, whether bringing together funders, grantees, or a mix.

My firm recently helped the David and Lucille Packard Foundation conduct a series of small gatherings of funders to discuss the Foundation’s learnings from a seven-year investment in summer learning. (For more information about that initiative, download the summary report we created, or visit the Foundation’s website.) While the convenings were specific to the summer learning topic, I observed several actions within them that I’d consider best practices for using small group gatherings for intentional learning, no matter what the subject.

1. Keep it casual and comfortable. Each convening was intentionally small—no more than 20 people—which allowed participants to gather around a common table. This fostered a sense of intimacy and a conversational tone. In addition, the Foundation provided a meal, either breakfast or lunch depending on the time of day, and allowed plenty of time for participants to enjoy it without feeling rushed. This also allowed foundation representatives in the room to catch up with old friends and meet new people, further building the sense of camaraderie and conversation.

2. Be clear that it’s a conversation, not a presentation. At the beginning of each gathering, the Packard staff made it clear that they had learned a great deal from listening to other funders, and they were hoping to continue that by having the funders in the room share their reactions and insights on the summer learning work. While the Packard staff did kick off the conversation with a quick overview of their initiative’s strategy, outcomes and lessons learned, the bulk of the agenda was allocated for questions and discussion. In fact, the agenda even included specific smaller one-to-one conversation time in which participants could dive into whatever aspects of the work caught their interest most—after which they shared highlights with the group.

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Embracing Our Foundation’s Role as a Convenor

By Mickey Gula, Buhl Regional Health Foundation

The Buhl Regional Health Foundation is a new health conversion foundation in Western Pennsylvania, situated on the Ohio state line.

We convened a daylong community health forum last fall to connect community leaders and organizations, explore our evolving region, and identify opportunities to improve the region’s well-being.

Over the past 30 years or more, our area has seen many changes, including the decline of the quality of life for many. We are members of the Rust Belt and live within an area of the country that has seen steep economic decline. Generations had worked in area steel mills to support their families, but our young people have moved away to find work and a better standard of living. Our county has one of the oldest populations in the state.

One of my early steps as executive director was to reach out to other conversion foundations in Pennsylvania. The state has nearly 40 similar foundations that fund a number of initiatives: health access, mental health, healthy eating, active living, and meeting the needs of the aging. I learned that all work closely with their local nonprofit agencies to engage them in conversation, educational efforts, and collaborations to improve the health and well-being of their communities outside of traditional health care settings. The connection these foundations have with grantees also assists them in finding areas of focus that can make an impact in their communities.

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Patient Philanthropy: How a Small Foundation Got Big Results

This article was originally published by NPQ online, on April 26, 2017,
https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2017/04/26/patient-philanthropy-
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.

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Collective Impact vs. Collaboration: Do You Know the Differences?

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?

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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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Tips for Effective Meetings With Government Officials, From Our Firsthand Experience

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.

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With a Staff I Can Count on One Hand

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.

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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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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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