Seizing the Opportunity to Tell Our Story

By Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation

Like many private foundations, ours has historically kept a relatively low profile. That all changed a decade ago when our board and staff embarked on a strategic planning process. It became clear through its community conversations, interviews, and research that our foundation had a real opportunity to extend our impact by improving our communications.

We recognized, our president & COO often says, that we needed to tell our own story. We had an important opportunity to make our funding priorities clearer to potential grantees, to be more visible (and ensure we would continue to be invited to sit at the table during important community discussions), and to build the strong relationships with nonprofit and community leaders centered on mutual understanding and cooperation that have been at the heart of our work since 1926.

In response, BBF has become proactive in its communications over the past decade. We created a website, began submitting regular press releases to our local newspapers, and worked with students at local Ball State University to create a series of short videos featuring our grantees and community. We’ve seized the opportunity to tell our own story.

Continue reading

The Buying Season

sticky-notes-to-do-listBy Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

Well, it’s that season again! People are breaking out their checkbooks and making resolutions for the new year. I know it sounds like I’m talking about the holidays, but I am actually talking about the end-of-year technology purchasing season.

I have been in the technology industry for most of my career and have always been surprised by the number of new purchases made in December. We thought it may be different serving the grantmaking industry, but it isn’t. The primary reason people buy in December is a function of their organization’s budget. Typically they are spending leftover budget or dipping into next year’s funds for a purchase they have been wanting all year.

So, rather than fight the trend, let me offer some advice to help make your new year happy and keep your buyer’s remorse to a minimum.

Are you spending leftover budget?

If you find yourself in a position to use up budget at year end, here are some tips, keeping in mind that this situation often holds the most risk for both the consumer and the vendor.

  • First, don’t make impulse purchases. If you are using leftover budget for small hardware upgrades or for a solution you have had your eye on all year, great. But if the primary goal is to use up your budget by year end, you may be disappointed in the new year.
  • Second, stop thinking about the budget, and don’t let the vendor focus on it either. Never tell a vendor you are using up end-of-year budget. This will often make them focus on helping you spend your money instead of solving your business problem. Start at the beginning of the purchase process. You can do it quickly, but any discussions internally or with vendors should be based on the problem you are using this excess budget to solve, not the budget itself.
  • Third, keep in mind: Just because you have extra money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the best deal. Make sure prospective vendors take you seriously.

Continue reading

Are You an Accidental Techie?

By Maru Willson, Exponent Philanthropy

Are you the go-to person for technology in your office, but “technology” isn’t in your job description? Then you’re an accidental techie, a common role in small offices.

computerExponent Philanthropy member Rachel Ayn Pickens, program officer at the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, became an accidental techie because she was young and had prior experience with social media.

“Everyone assumes Millennials will know what to do because we grew up with technology,” says Rachel. “Age may have something to do with finding yourself in an ‘accidental techie’ role, but it’s not everything. It has more to do with wanting to learn and being willing to teach yourself what you need to know.

Adopt this mantra early and use it often: Technology is a partner in achieving our mission. Technology can be a game changer for small organizations, helping to drive your mission further, faster. Connecting new tech to your mission is vital in gaining buy-in from stakeholders in your organization.

Think about your organization’s needs. Rely on your organization’s needs as a guide. It’ll help you avoid the trap of purchasing the latest technology just because it’s new, or because someone else insisted you should.

Continue reading

Why to Support Nonprofits’ Technology Needs

Adapted with permission from Idealware’s “A Funders Guide to Supporting Nonprofit Technology.” Idealware helps nonprofits—including funders—make smart software decisions by providing thoroughly researched, impartial, and accessible resources about software.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a single type of funding that could positively affect all your grantees? There is: support for grantees’ technology needs. But few funders support technology, and many nonprofits are reluctant to directly ask for that support.

Investing in your grantees’ technology infrastructure—whether purchasing actual hardware, helping them choose software, or building technology skills—has a direct impact on their important work.

Continue reading

A New Way to Connect: Live Online Chats

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

From in-person programs to our Directory of Foundation and Philanthropy Advisors, we’re always looking for ways to help you learn from and connect with colleagues and advisors.

We’re pleased to introduce Exponent Philanthropy Live Q&A, a new way for you to get the information you need by posing your questions to experts—live! These online chats take place on the first Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. ET.

Here’s how they work:

  • Mark your calendar. We’ll hold an Exponent Philanthropy Live Q&A on the first Thursday of each month. Save the date! 
  • Request a reminder. By going to the Exponent Philanthropy Live Q&A page before the event, you can request that a reminder be sent to your email the day before, hours before, or even a few minutes before the event starts.
  • Send in a question. You can submit a question at any point before the event starts. This will help to be sure your question is answered, or, if you have a question for our guest but can’t join that month’s event, we’ll get an answer for you. Just check back for the transcript afterward.
  • Join us live. On the day of the Live Q&A, we’ll be joined by our guest for that month. Type your questions into your chat box, tell us who you are—full names are great but initials work too—and our guests will type an answer right back. If their response prompts another question, ask that one too!
  • Read the transcript. After the Live Q&A has ended, the transcript is available on our site for anyone to read and share.

Here’s an example from May 1 Live Q&A with guest experts Mark Larimer of Foundant and Perla Ni of Great Nonprofits. We discussed ways to use data in grantmaking. Continue reading

How to Make Big Data Relevant and Useful

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

Many common themes in philanthropy today revolve around the promises of “Big Data.” Grantmakers are continually called upon to be more transparent and to share their data, but many have become cynical as past data projects failed more than a few times due to incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated data. A misunderstanding regarding how their data will be used has also contributed to the wariness many grantmakers have regarding sharing data.

We believe three critical requirements have been missing among failed data initiatives: first, a reliable and distinct benefit for those who share data, and an understanding of how it can and will be used; second, an easy way to share data; and third, data that is up-to-date and accurate.

Grants management solutions have a unique and important role to play in helping data initiatives succeed.

  • By allowing grantseeking organizations to regularly use and update their data during their normal grant cycle, inaccurate or outdated data is eliminated.

Continue reading

Building a Tech Savvy Board

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

In my previous post, I shared why technology professionals can be a valuable addition to any organization’s board. But even without a technology expert among your ranks, there are ways to move your board toward being tech savvy.

Raise the profile of tech at your organization. Does your board realize the benefit of considering technology at the board level? Are board members missing the potential cost and time savings of smart technology decisions?

Consider a board-level tech committee. If your board is not used to talking about technology at its meetings, a technology committee can set direction and make recommendations to the larger board. A committee can also troubleshoot operational issues, research technology that may facilitate or streamline your work, and think about what technology the organization requires to run well.

Retain the expertise of a tech consultant. If your board were undergoing a strategic plan or wrestling with a thorny issue, you’d probably seek the services of an outside expert. Technology should be treated the same way. If your board needs basic tech know-how, an outside consultant can bring board members up to speed on the technology sector and answer questions.

Continue reading

Are You Overlooking This Type of Professional for Your Board?

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

Quick. Imagine your ideal board members sitting around a table. Who is there and why?

Most of us agree that board members should be committed to the organization, and good leaders. It may be helpful to include an attorney to draft a conflict of interest statement. A CPA who serves as treasurer. But what about a technology professional?

I recently had the chance to attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference, and at the session “What’s Your Board’s IT IQ?” I was challenged to consider a professional that’s often left off the list: the information technology (IT) professional.

Presenter Leon Wilson of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Highway T told us that just 1% of directors in for-profit corporations have a tech background. We don’t have stats on foundations or other nonprofit organizations, but we can assume they’re similar.

And there’s really no reason for this gap.

Continue reading

Telling Your Story on Social Media: Family Funders Share Tips

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

This post originally appeared on Philanthropy Writing: The Heart of Giving (February 26, 2014).

Family foundations are a modest bunch. Most prefer operating quietly in the background, out of the limelight, away from any undue attention. What this means is that, many foundations—particularly those that keep their operations on the smaller side—have been slow to take advantage of social media.

This is starting to change. Foundations are finding that social media is important for advocating for the causes they care about, and deepening community connections. In a recent National Center for Family Philanthropy webinar Telling Your Story to Maximize Community Impact, four funders shared how they use social media, and why.

The most compelling reason: “If you don’t define yourself, others will define you,” said Jay Ruderman, president of The Ruderman Family Foundation. Sure, social media means putting yourself out there—which, for family foundations, can mean increased exposure and more funding requests. Yet foundations have a tremendous power to leverage the stories they tell—and their stories can help grantees. Here are more lessons learned:

Continue reading

8 Sources of Data to Inform Your Giving

By Akilah Massey, Exponent Philanthropy

Data has found its place in philanthropy as two important trends converge: a movement toward impact, and a surge of digital information from government, regulatory, and nonprofit organizations.

Exponent Philanthropy member Fran Sykes and fellow trustees of The Pascale Sykes Foundation use a mix of state data on school achievement and information from other government agencies to set the foundation’s funding priorities. She notes, “Every state has KIDS COUNT®. Every state has stats from its departments of labor, employment, corrections. Every state has stats on public school academic achievement. All are matters of public record and can be used to determine needs.”

And she is right: Public data is available from a variety of sources. And many more organizations are compiling, analyzing, and making data useful for donors and others.

Where can you find data to inform your giving? Here are 8 places to turn:

Continue reading