Planning for a Ramp Up in Giving

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

More foundations than ever before are facing the exciting prospect of significantly ramping up and increasing charitable giving and other activities.

Whether resulting from the receipt of an estate, sale of a company, or simply a decision to contribute more resources and/or spend assets more aggressively, foundations that ramp up are undergoing a shift in scale that often requires major changes in infrastructure, staffing, governance, grantmaking, and use of expert resources.

Download or order “Ramping Up Your Foundation,” created by Exponent Philanthropy and The Philanthropic Initiative (complimentary in PDF; available for purchase in hard copy) >>

The groundwork for an effective plan

Even if the timing is uncertain, many foundation boards know whether there is likely to be a growth in corpus at some point, and generally how big that growth will be. Foundations that take the time to plan ahead of a ramp up can clarify vision, explore donor intent, develop a team of advisors and board members, experiment with new approaches, and more.

Start with strategy. It is important to begin at the strategic level with a thoughtful look at the foundation’s vision for change—its mission, goals, donor legacy, and broad strategies. Experienced foundation professionals advise foundations to focus first on the more important strategic issues. Once those are clarified, tactical decisions like staffing, grant cycles, and office space can flow from them.

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Four Reasons To Speak Out About Your Philanthropy

By Courtney M. McSwain on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

Foundations wrestling with the decision to speak publicly about their work received advice last month during Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 National Conference. Attendees gathered for a roundtable discussion on why and how to speak out, facilitated by Evan Mendelson of the David & Lura Lovell Foundation and Alexandra Toma of the Peace and Security Funders Group.  

Communicating and Speaking OutParticipants came to the table with a variety of questions, ranging from how to address transparency to which social media tools to use: Do we need a website, and when? How much do you publicize? How do you convince a board that going public is the right thing to do?

The dominant question was simply, Why go public?

The desire for privacy or a long-held belief that philanthropists should operate without drawing attention motivates more than a few funders to shy away from operating a website, using social media, or engaging the press. But it is important to think about what can be accomplished beyond writing checks, and going public can offer benefits without compromising a foundation’s core values. 

Here are four reasons to consider speaking out. Ultimately, philanthropists have to decide individually, based on their goals, if speaking out is right for them.

1. To Find Partners and Leverage Your Resources

There’s a reason organizations rejoice when their websites receive top billing from a Google keyword search—it means they are easy to find. The value of being searchable many not seem apparent at first, but consider what might happen if a like-minded partner (corporate, government, philanthropic, or otherwise) knew of the great work you support and wanted to help. That’s the example Toma shared about a Peace and Security Funders Group member that, after deciding to go public, caught the attention of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The organization was able to forge a $7 million partnership with USAID, greatly multiplying the impact of its philanthropy.

Even smaller opportunities can help to deepen your work. To attract new board members, for example, it is important for the community to know what you’re doing.

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Readying Your Philanthropy for an Influx of Assets

By Elaine Gast Fawcett, Four Winds Writing, Inc.

Ramping up—or significantly increasing charitable giving or activities—can be an empowering transition point in your philanthropy. It can also leave you bewildered by the complexities that come with your new normal.

What does it mean to ramp up in response to an influx of assets—perhaps the most common reason funders increase their charitable giving and/or activities? Here’s how one family foundation is managing this transition.

Case Study: The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation

When Texas oil giant George Mitchell died in July 2013 at age 94, he left behind a thriving family of 10 children, 23 grandchildren, and 5 greatgrandchildren. A lifelong environmentalist, Mitchell signed the Giving Pledge committing the majority of his wealth to charity. Upon his death, he bequeathed an estimated $750 million to the family foundation he and his wife (who died in 2009) established in 1978—The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

The foundation, which to date has been operating with $115 million in assets and a small staff of three, is now charged with ramping up its operations to prepare for this influx of assets—expected in full by 2018.

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Are You Prepared for Philanthropy’s Common Transition Points?

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Your philanthropic journey is sure to be a remarkable one: often cyclical, rarely linear, and greatly shaped by your particular circumstances.

Are you prepared to navigate the twists and turns that are sure to arise over time? Our nearly two decades of experience working with, listening to, and observing philanthropists with few or no staff suggests seven transition points common in the philanthropic journey.

Selecting a philanthropic vehicle. There are many options for structured giving, and your choice will influence your impact, your governance and administration, and your tax advantages. Trusted philanthropic advisors are often integral to these choices, and to putting into place the vehicles you choose.

Finding a focus. Taking time to focus can help you clarify what you want to achieve and measure progress toward your goals. Many funders focus on a particular field of interest, population, or geography. Others focus by strategy (e.g., building technology capacity) and bolster a range of grantees by applying those strategies. There is no one right way to settle on a focus, and many funders consider a combination of factors to determine theirs, including passions, values, and critical community needs. See the article “Choosing a Focus”

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