Philanthropy Lessons: We Are Part of a Whole

By Colleen O’Keefe, Sauer Children’s Renew Foundation

Our foundation’s work in the child welfare system has shown me, once again, that life is powered by relationships and connections.

Today, Exponent Philanthropy released the latest video in its Philanthropy Lessons series: Philanthropy Lessons: Working Collaboratively. It echoes how I feel about our foundation’s efforts to improve the child welfare system: We all need to come to the table. Funders, nonprofits, recipients, government entities. We all hold one aspect of the bigger picture, and, until we put the whole picture together, we cannot solve the puzzle. We need one another; we need our different perspectives.

Sitting in my foundation office trying to get my head around the complexity of the child welfare system, I sometimes feel insignificant. It can be easy to forget that we are part of something much larger than our small organizations.

Continue reading

Change Demands More Than Programmatic Grants

By Chris Thompson, Director of Regional Engagement, Fund for Our Economic Future & Jeffrey M. Glebocki, CEO, Strategy + Action/Philanthropy

Philanthropy should support efforts that help stakeholders understand the performance of key civic systems

As grantmakers, we know the programs and projects we support are often by themselves insufficient to create the level of substantive change we hope for in the communities and issues we care about.

Yes, a well-run tutoring program can indeed change the lives of children. There are so many factors, though, that go into improving high school graduation rates—to use one common measure of systemic educational outcomes—that no one tutoring program alone can drive systems change.

Building the management capacity of local food banks, as another example, is likely to result in more efficient distribution of food, more effective use of volunteers, and better coordination between multiple providers. Again, though, the best-run agencies alone cannot shift fundamental systems change—in this case, ending hunger.

We highlight this reality not to suggest that supporting effective programs is futile, nor to dissuade funders from developing and sustaining a focus in their giving. Rather, we raise these issues as a reminder to explore how at least part of our grantmaking can be channeled to help us and our grantees better understand and influence the civic systems that shape the quality of life in our communities.

Continue reading

Human Rights and Our Family Foundation

Michael Hirschhorn, Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation

This post is the first in a series with colleagues at the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG), a global network of donors and grantmakers committed to advancing human rights around the world. The series will explore the ins and outs of supporting human rights as a funder with few or no staff.

In our family foundation, advancing human rights has become an increasingly central strategy, both for our grantmaking abroad and in the United States. What drives our growing interest in human rights? A keen awareness that we’d like to try to make a bigger difference on the issues we care about most. We started to ask ourselves questions such as: While we fund nonprofits in Baltimore City to expand training for public school teachers and principals, why isn’t the Baltimore City Public School System adequately funded to meet its own system-wide training needs?

I cha‎ir the board of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, founded by my maternal grandparents more than 50 years ago in Baltimore, MD. All trustees are my family members—my sister, aunt and uncle, my cousin; you get the picture!—and we are assisted by three highly capable part-time professionals.

A bit of proud family history: Following the horrors and genocide of the WWII era, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed my grandfather, Jacob Blaustein, to serve as part of a small delegation charged with ensuring that human rights were deeply embedded in the establishment of the United Nations (UN). Following an arduous, highly charged international process, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was ultimately adopted by the UN in December 1948. Fast forward to more recent times: Despite my family’s deep-rooted history in human rights, it is only over the past 15 years or so that our family foundation has begun to explicitly articulate a “human rights approach” toward our grantmaking. And this evolution has been a twisty road, hardly without its misunderstandings and bumps in the family road!

Continue reading

Philanthropy and Complex Problems, Part I: Being Real about What is Daunting

By Andy Carroll, ASF

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 foundations–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 the work of foundations 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. Continue reading

It’s About Trust: Balancing Relationship with Risk in Social Entrepreneurship

By Suzanne Skees, Skees Family Foundation

The Skees Family Foundation and Th3rd Plateau co-hosted a dine-around for social entrepreneurs and their funders at the Exponent Philanthropy 2012 National Conference last month. We had an “oversold” turnout of about forty highly engaged professionals, with a perfect balance: half funders and half entrepreneurs. Even our organic, locally sourced, family-style dinner was cooked by an Opportunity Fund microentrepreneur. The food and conversation surpassed our wildest hopes—and the input from attendees got me thinking even more deeply about risk and trust, and why we fund very early-stage social entrepreneurs.

Upaya Social Ventures

Our India client Draupadi; two neighbors sharing advice on their new jobs; ultra-poor kaccha house in Godha Village. (c) Upaya Social Ventures

The Indian sun broils down on our heads near the thatched-roof hut where 60-year-old Draupadi stands wringing her slim hands. She’s complaining about her arthritis and her three goats.

I’m in Uttar Pradesh, visiting a social enterprise we fund through U.S.-based Upaya Social Ventures. Draupadi’s skeptical of us because of her experience with local milkmen who charge high-interest loans and pay fluctuating prices. She’s stressed, because none of her new goats are milking. “Don’t worry,” her neighbor Saraswati assures her, “the milkman pays you only 15 rupees, but this company pays much more.” She explains that Draupadi will receive a steady weekly salary all year, through the milking and dry seasons.

As we do here in the U.S., Draupadi takes her friend’s word for it, and she takes a measured risk. After all, she used to get only a few days’ manual labor per month, hauling stones, bricks, or water at construction sites. “This job is better,” she admits. Continue reading