Giving Globally: When to Go Big & When to Go Small

By Rebecca Miller, The Philanthropic Initiative, an Exponent Philanthropy Professional Partner

Originally appeared on TPI’s Deep Social Impact blog (August 3, 2016)

The recent USA Giving Report shared the good news that last year there was an increase in international giving stemming from the U.S. However, many people still see barriers to global giving.

Those obstacles include the fear of corruption and dollars being wasted, the inability to directly see the impact of philanthropy done abroad, or the obvious needs we all see right here in own backyard. When donors do consider international giving, they can be stymied by which organizations to fund and by which approach to international giving will have the greatest impact.

In our work at TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy, we often see clients grapple with the decision to fund larger, international organizations, or to seek out small grassroots organizations; struggling with the right approach may be one of the reasons international giving from the U.S. remains relatively low.

It’s understandable that many donors wrestle with this issue. With so many amazing organizations doing social justice work every day to change the world, how do you think about practicing effective international philanthropy? How do you decide which organizations will achieve the biggest impact with your giving? How can you ensure that there is transparency and accountability by the organization you’re supporting? How do you decide when to go big and when to go small?

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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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Ready to Be an Impact Investor? Move Slowly, Stay Curious

This post is an excerpt from the complimentary resource Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations, created by Exponent Philanthropy and partners Mission Investors Exchange and Arabella Advisors. Want to align your investments with your mission? Download your copy >>

By Lucy Cantwell, New Belgium Family Foundation

Many people are beginning to intuitively grasp the promise of impact investing but struggle with how they might participate. Finding a balance between the traditionally “hard” skills of finance and the “softer” considerations of impact is an opportunity for foundations and advisors alike.

We started, as many foundations do, by incorporating the beliefs and intent of our founder. Kim Jordan started the foundation with her family after New Belgium Brewing Company— the company she co-founded and runs as CEO—became 100 percent employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan in 2012. In addition, the company has a long history of environmental and socially responsible practices, and we wanted to ensure the foundation would reflect that history. We knew that we wanted to pursue impact investing, as it dovetailed with Kim’s belief in the transformative potential of business, but we didn’t know how to execute that vision.

Interviewing investment advisors and learning each of these groups’ definitions of impact investing helped us articulate our own goals. Although financial return was important to us, we cared more about maximizing our potential impact—a surprise to many advisors. We realized that a 100 percent commitment to impact for our then $7 million portfolio was essential—a way of activating our 95 percent as well as our 5 percent payout. We wanted to support thoughtful businesses like the one created by Kim, and we also wanted to help signal to the mainstream financial system that there are investors who privilege value creation that goes beyond shareholder value. During this time we also refined the core values of the foundation and added an emphasis on taking risks and collaboration. After talking with potential advisors, and learning what leeway there was to support our vision of impact investing, we settled on a boutique impact investment firm to manage our corpus.

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How to Spot a Next Gen Fellow

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

How do you know if Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program is right for you or someone at your foundation?

As we note in the program details, the 6-month training fellowship is designed for “dynamic leaders roughly 18–35 years old who are involved in all types of foundations as current or soon-to-be trustees or staff.”

Given that many applications and even more queries are rolling in as the April 10 application deadline approaches, I thought it may be helpful to go deeper in describing characteristics that make for a good match between the program and a prospective applicant. This might be especially helpful for foundations that have several 18- to 35-year-olds who might be interested.

Although the characteristics below are not comprehensive, and not every applicant will share all of them, we are looking to build a group of participants who demonstrate a good balance of these. We hope this will help you make decisions about applying and, if ready, meet the April 10 application deadline.

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WATCHING: Tax Reform Provisions With Implications for Philanthropy and Charity

U.S. CapitolBy Sue Santa, policy and legal consultant

For several years, we’ve been hearing promises of comprehensive tax reform. Both Congressional leaders and the Trump administration voice their commitment, and we’re told the President will release a plan soon. The President is slated to address Congress on February 28, so we may get signals then of what he has in mind. Congress too is fine-tuning its plan.

Congressional leaders aim for comprehensive tax reform to achieve several broad goals:

  • Simplify an overly burdensome and confusing tax code;
  • Lower rates and broaden the base (i.e., remove many deductions, loopholes);
  • Spur economic growth;
  • Level the playing field for U.S. corporations; and
  • Reinstate “fairness.”

Exactly how this will be achieved, at what cost, and whether those costs will need to be offset with tax revenues are issues that remain to be resolved. We also don’t know if a truly comprehensive overhaul—addressing both individual and corporate taxes—is achievable. It’s a monumental aspiration at a time when there’s very little agreement in Washington—in Congress, with the Administration, and within the political parties—beyond broad concepts. In the end, we might see slimmed back efforts.

With all this uncertainty, why should we be vigilant now? Don’t we have time? No, we don’t.

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Are You Funding What Works?

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: Evidence Based-Approaches to Grantmaking. View the 90-minute webinar on evidence-based approaches to grantmaking >>

In today’s age of data, measurement, metrics, and evaluation, are you surprised to learn that public systems serving children and families (e.g., health, education, child welfare) have been slow to adopt tested, effective programs on the community and state level?

“Unfortunately, when it comes to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families, the science of evaluating programs has moved much, much faster than the science of implementing them,” said Suzanne Barnard, director of Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF)’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. “There is a big gap between knowing what works and using what works in practice.”

For example, we know that prevention is key to improving outcomes for children. Tested, effective programs that minimize risk factors (e.g., family conflict, academic failure) and maximize protective factors (e.g., social skills, positive relationships with adults) have been proven to positively affect outcomes over time, and can be embedded into community, school, or family life.

So why does uptake remain low? AECF posed this question to public sector leaders, revealing three barriers to uptake:

  • Not knowing which programs are best for the children being served
  • Needing guidance on implementation
  • Not knowing how to pay for the programs

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Foundation Catalyzes Change in Support for First-Gen College Students

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

At seven years old, Treven Treece of Morristown, Tennessee, decided he wanted to go to college. He would be the first in his family to do it. With no one to guide him, Treven had no idea how college worked. He applied to the University of Memphis and, as a first-generation college student, won a First Scholars® award that he says changed his life.

The Suder Foundation in Plano, Texas, created the First Scholars program in 2009 with a goal to dramatically increase the graduation rates of first-generation students like Treven—those who were the first in their family to go on to higher education. Entrepreneurs Deborah and Eric Suder had endowed scholarships prior to help mid-range academic, needs-based students get to school. “We naïvely thought that financial aid would assure their success. This was not the case,” says Eric. They learned that only 36% of first-generation students nationally were graduating. First-gen students face distinct challenges that many legacy students do not: They are less academically prepared, often more financially strained, and have a harder time transitioning into college.

First Scholars“When we started First Scholars, there were limited programs geared solely toward first-gen students, and those in existence focused on the freshman year only,” says Eric. “We reasoned that if we could address and mitigate, or even eliminate, the challenges common to many first-gen students, then we could bridge the gaps to help them stay in school and graduate.”

First Scholars awards incoming cohorts of 20 first-gen students $20,000 over four years at its six active university partners. Students engage in holistic programming that tends to their academic and financial needs as well as personal, professional, and social needs.
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Getting Out Into the Community: Identifying Gaps and Leverage Points for Change

By Carol Gallo, The Y.C. Ho/Helen & Michael Change Foundation, and Jenna Wachtmann, Ball Brothers Foundation 

Originally posted to GrantCraft’s blog

scanning-fb-li“It must be so fun to give money away!” It’s a reaction we’ve all heard when we tell people we are staff members or board members of a grantmaking organization. And yes, it is fun…but it’s also hard work. Good grantmaking – as we know – is about far more than reading piles of proposals or signing big checks; it’s about identifying needs, evaluating potential solutions, and thoughtfully employing dollars to make an impact.

At last year’s Exponent Philanthropy National Conference in Chicago, we presented a session with GrantCraft’s Jen Bokoff about doing just this—identifying priority needs and leveraging points for change, whether in a specific geographic region or around a particular issue area. The room was packed with foundation staff and board members interested in practical tips and tricks for “scanning” the landscape in order to inform good grantmaking.

Missed the session? Here are the top ten ideas we presented to fit a variety of timeframes, budgets, and operating styles.

1) Get your boots muddy

As grantmakers, often our best and greatest insights come when we get away from the comfort of our offices. We need to take time to really listen to and experience first-hand the work of those we fund. This is Jenna’s “muddy boots” theory. As a program officer, she keeps a pair of boots on hand that she wears to site visits to nature preserves, construction sites, etc. And they are very muddy! The insights that come from being on-the-ground (literally!) are critical for good grantmaking.

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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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