New Report Details Shifts in Foundation Operations

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

2017-fomr-cover_page_01More small-staffed foundations are engaging in activities beyond traditional grantmaking, according to Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Foundation Operations and Management Report released yesterday.

The only study that captures benchmarks for foundations that operate with few or no staff, which comprise the vast majority of the philanthropy sector, the report details trends in foundation grantmaking, operations, investments, and governance, based on responses from 495 association members.

Join Exponent Philanthropy for access or order your copy >>

The report highlights upward trends in strategies for increasing impact, including:

  • Reviewing grantmaking strategies regularly
  • Sending board members to conferences or education
  • Bringing in speakers or resources from the field
  • Gathering feedback from grantees about the foundation

strategiesforimpact

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What Funders Say About Their Philanthropy, Then and Now

By Cynthia Schaal, Exponent Philanthropy

Philanthropy follows its own journey of learning and discovery for every donor, board member, and professional who gives. For our association members, who give as individuals or as part of small-staffed foundations, that journey can feel lonely and isolating at times.

Yet what we have come to know in our decades of working with foundations, families, and individual donors is this: The philanthropic journey has more shared experiences and ambitions than any individual may realize along their own path.

Case in point: a session at last fall’s National Conference welcoming 100+ conference newcomers.

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Proud But Not Satisfied

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

At the time, I was part of a team that chose not to fund a reading program.

One of the biggest factors that influenced our decision not to provide funding was their choice of literature. I honestly don’t recall the exact titles, but suffice it to say the program was using works by Malcolm X and James Baldwin to engage the youth they were trying to teach. With our totally different backgrounds, we felt they should be reading Mark Twain or Louisa May Alcott.

What the hell was I thinking?

I proudly professed I wanted to help kids learn to read, yet in retrospect I can’t imagine being any more rude, patronizing, or inappropriate. What makes it worse—what has really bothered me all these years—is that I was so incredibly detached from the very people I was trying to help.

My point is this: We need a strong understanding of the people we are affecting; the situations we are trying to impact. That means actively listening to the ultimate populations we are trying to help; listening to all the perspectives that influence their world, not ours.

This story, my story, was part of my opening remarks last week to nearly 1,000 at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 National Conference. It wasn’t easy to share so openly among so many. But the message was too important.

As I stated later in my remarks, “We should all be proud. But we should not be satisfied.” Vast inequities persist in today’s world, and we must persevere in our belief that something better is possible. We cannot do that without acknowledging our biases, sharing our lessons, and doing the work it takes to achieve more for our communities and causes, however uncomfortable that work may be.

As the conference unfolded and its themes emerged, it became clear that we are indeed proud but not yet satisfied as a community of funders. Here is just some of what I observed. 

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[The Pulse] Philanthropy Leaders Call on American Public to Step Up to Nation’s Challenges

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

The Pulse
In our regular “Pulse” blog series, I explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series   

It takes courage to attempt the near-impossible, to take on monumental challenges with only modest resources. This is the task the nonprofit sector has set for itself the past 40-plus years. Nonprofits, their funders, and the associations that serve them have struggled against poverty, hardship, and environmental degradation; achieved successes; and continually developed the rigor of their fight.

Yet it takes another kind of courage to assess, with a sober eye and honest heart, the progress made, and recognize publicly that the nonprofit sector alone cannot meet the deepening challenges. It takes courage to admit that philanthropy needs partners, a more collective effort, and a greater shared responsibility for the most vulnerable in our country.

Nell Edgington, Tom Watson, Darren Walker, and Jake Hayman are among the growing number of courageous writers and thought leaders who are questioning out loud whether philanthropy alone can solve our deepening problems. I highlighted their voices in my June 7 blog, “Hardship, Inequality, and Racial Divides Create a Reckoning for Philanthropy.”

Let’s take a deeper look at why philanthropy can’t do it alone.

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[The Pulse] Hardship, Inequality, and Racial Divides Create a Reckoning for Philanthropy

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

The PulseIn our regular “Pulse” blog series, I explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series  

The model that private foundations and donors have relied on for decades to make positive impact on the world is being questioned. Economic hardship, inequality, racial discrimination, lack of social mobility, and environmental degradation are only increasing in depth and scope. And there is growing recognition that human and environmental needs that go unmet today will incur greater costs in the future. 

The scope and urgency of the challenges is causing frustration, re-assessment, and soul-searching. More foundations and donors are asking themselves not only how they can alleviate problems, but how to solve them once and for all. Can funders reduce the need for philanthropy in the first place?

Many of the nation’s 1.5 million nonprofit organizations struggle constantly, lack internal capacity, and cannot sustain their critical work. Even if foundations and donors provided more funding for general operations and capacity building, can private philanthropy solve nonprofits’ financial struggles when national and state legislators continue to cut government funding—a much larger share of nonprofits’ income? Should funders be more concerned about the decline of public funding over the past decades, since the cuts undermine the effectiveness of their grantees? 

(Among current stress points are budget battles in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other states, which delay funding to nonprofits that provide critical services. In Pennsylvania recently, more than 17,000 people received no or reduced services due to the budget impasse.)

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From Silos to Shared Goals

In honor of our association’s 20th anniversary and the passionate leaders who have helped us grow along the way, we are pleased to launch a regular blog series dedicated to the reflections of our founders, early board members, and others with long careers in philanthropy. What has changed in the field—and in their giving—over the past decades? What has remained the same? Join us at the 2016 National Conference, September 26-28 in Chicago, to celebrate our milestone anniversary >>

By Marty Fluharty, The Americana Foundation

Last week a speaker was talking about today’s lost communications. We’re turning to text messages, email, ear buds and head phones, in our homes, and in our separate cars. There are fewer community spaces as society encourages us to “do it ourselves.”

Memories came back to a past time some 30+ years ago when there were lots of group discussions, convenings, “rump sessions” with colleagues and friends, porch get-togethers with neighbors sometimes just to talk and other times to celebrate or address concerns. The speaker was correct: We’ve lost a lot of that.

In 1992, I was asked by a colleague to help The Americana Foundation learn about an issue being discussed in our state (Michigan). I met with the board and suggested that they gather with some of the diverse stakeholders and hear their perspectives of the issue. Three intense days later, we all walked away with a list of recommendations and implementation agreements. It was a powerful lesson in what 27 people with very diverse opinions and beliefs can do when they work together.

We tend to call it collaboration, a word with many descriptions: cooperation, mutual support, shared work and goals, to work jointly, to communicate openly. Okay, you get the point. The thing is, you can’t do it alone.

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A Unique American Story: Public Policy and Private Philanthropy

By Richard Marker, Wise Philanthropy

Join Richard Marker this fall for a session at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2016 National Conference, September 26–28 in Chicago, to explore 240 years of American philanthropy in one surprisingly easy sitting, including how our changing landscape informs our current and future giving. Register for the 2016 National Conference by June 15 to save $100 >>

U.S. CapitolSome years ago, when Jacques Chirac was still president of France, the U.S. State Department asked me to meet with Chirac’s advisor on domestic affairs. She had completed a national tour of institutions of American voluntarism. I was the last stop on her tour, her opportunity to debrief.

Her leading question to me was, “How can we develop a system of philanthropy and voluntarism in France like you have in the USA?”

My response: “Before sharing some ideas, I have some questions for you: Can you imagine France without a system of healthcare for all citizens? Can you imagine a French higher education system where students pay $30k or $40k or $50k per annum to attend? And so on….”

Her response: “Impossible!” [The discussion ensued.]

This brief anecdote captures several important realities:

  • The American philanthropy/not-for-profit system emerged from a very different set of political assumptions than most of the rest of the post-emancipation world. In the United States, voluntary institutions arose to meet real needs that the political system chose not to provide. Even today there are huge splits in assumptions and beliefs about whose role is what.
  • Public policy and private philanthropy are inextricably interwoven. Sometimes these interconnections are unintended and sometimes quite purposeful.
  • Neither a government-centered system nor a voluntary system has the capacity, on its own, to provide for all needs and interests of growing, aging, and diverse populations.
  • The history of the institutions of the voluntary sector themselves reflect a social history fully connected to the political realities in place when they were created.

For many, the history of philanthropy is conflated with the biographies of famous philanthropists. And to be sure there are many fascinating narratives of the superrich and the lives they lived—some of them tales of atonement, others of beneficence, all ultimately of generosity. But that is neither new nor unique to any one nation or culture or era.

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We Can Only Imagine What the Next 20 Years Will Bring

In honor of our association’s 20th anniversary and the passionate leaders who have helped us grow along the way, we are pleased to launch a regular blog series dedicated to the reflections of our founders, early board members, and others with long careers in philanthropy. What has changed in the field—and in their giving—over the past decades? What has remained the same? Join us at the 2016 National Conference, September 26-28 in Chicago, to celebrate our milestone anniversary >>

By Janis ReischmannHau`oli Mau Loa Foundation

Thinking about the fact that Exponent Philanthropy is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year reminds me of the Beatles lyrics: “It was twenty years ago today / Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play / They’ve been going in and out of style / But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile….”

Thinking of the Beatles reminds me of how much has changed over the years and how much remains the same.

Things that have changed: I still remember the first time I searched the web. It was 1994, and the search was very slow. I remember being puzzled by search engines and wondered how I would use this new technology. I was still writing letters, receiving faxes, talking on the telephone and, of course, meeting people in person. The foundation I worked for required multiple copies of proposals to be submitted by mail or hand delivered. Today, searches are done in a matter of seconds; casual email has replaced the dying art of formal letter writing and as a mode for transmitting documents. Telephone conversations and personal interaction have been taken over by several social media forms.

I worked for a community foundation in 1996, and we were just beginning to understand different ways donors could structure their gifts. We were exploring donor advised funds and considering how they might impact our work and the field. Since then, the variety of giving structures has evolved and grown is some very meaningful ways. It has added complexity to our field. It has also added choices. In part, Exponent Philanthropy’s name change in 2014 (from Association of Small Foundations) is a reflection of the changing organizational forms of philanthropy and a desire to recognize and embrace the evolving forms and structures for carrying out philanthropic intent.

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How Our Foundation Has Evolved Over the Past Quarter Century

In honor of our association’s 20th anniversary and the passionate leaders who have helped us grow along the way, we are pleased to feature a regular blog series this year dedicated to the reflections of our founders, early board members, and others with long careers in philanthropy. What has changed in the field—and in their giving—over the past decades? What has remained the same? Join us at the 2016 National Conference, September 26-28 in Chicago, to celebrate our 20th anniversary >>

By Nancy Colina, The Colina Foundation

Changes, changes, changes. “The only thing constant is change.” So we must grow and adapt, or become irrelevant. The opposite is stagnation and has no future.

As with most foundations, ours has undergone changes over the past nearly 24 years of our existence—some subtle, some not so subtle. There are three areas into which most of these changes fall: focus, geography, and governance.

Focus. Our mission statement, “Helping Children,” is intentionally broad, which has allowed us much latitude in incorporating evolving interests. When we started in 1992, we addressed largely the educational needs of all children, but particularly those in schools, which meant ages 5-18. The more we studied and learned, the clearer it became that we must start much younger, and that early childhood issues are the key to a healthy population and a stronger nation. Since 85% of the brain development takes place by age 3, we determined to look at how we might promote education, nutrition, and a healthy life for all our citizens, starting early and building a strong base. Strengthening that focus, and concentrating the bulk of our funds to that effort, has been one of the biggest changes we’ve undergone.

Watch Nancy describe a past foundation grant with unintended—and outsized—results:

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[The Pulse] Social Change Drivers & Difficulties

The PulseBy Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

In our regular “Pulse” blog series, I explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series   

It’s Not Foundation Money but Culture and Talent That Can Change the World 

In a study exploring why some social-change efforts achieve transformational results while others do not, Community Wealth Partners found that a strong internal culture plays an essential role in the ability of nonprofit organizations and foundations to achieve change on important issues. A strong organizational culture is one where rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior are clear and regularly communicated, expectations for how people are managed and treated are well defined, and where individuals’ learning, growth, participation, and dignity are valued.

For decades, academics and leaders in the business world have understood that an organization’s strong culture contributes to its productivity, ability to attract and retain talent, and its bottom line. Now, culture is seen as linked to social change outcomes:

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