“We can’t just put a Band-Aid on this. We need to change the system!” How many times have you heard that statement? It’s true. Most of the issues funders address will ultimately benefit greatly by systems change. But how do funders play a role in that change? I define systems change as altering entrenched policies and practices in society. Generally, there are three approaches that funders use to engage in systems change work. I think of them as using lenses, frameworks and movements. 1. Using a systems change lens to drive philanthropic mission at individual foundations As donors and foundations learn and grow, and come to understand why systems change work is important – even critical – for achieving their … Continue reading Three Ways Funders Can Change Systems And Drive Impact
A colleague of mine recently forwarded a query from a funder that was looking to be more innovative in its grantmaking. This funder asked several questions of colleagues, such as: How many grantmaking staff do you have? How many grant cycles do you conduct each year? Do you offer grants for programs? Operations? Capacity building? As I considered this list, I confess I grew a bit frustrated. The person asking the questions was truly interested in being innovative, but the questions were all wrong. They were confined to the realm of what’s “normal” and what’s currently happening, rather than what was possible or wildly different. In addition, he’d only asked other funders, not anyone outside the field. Not surprisingly, the … Continue reading Shouting into the Mouth of a Cave
Are you missing a key chance to change policy? Most foundations know that they can’t lobby directly for a piece of legislation that is being considered by a lawmaking body. But before the legislative process around a new piece of public policy ever begins, foundations can be key players in shaping the landscape for that policy and building knowledge and momentum. On the other side of the legislative process, after a policy passes through legislation and becomes law, some of the harder and longer-term advocacy work begins as new policies are implemented. Here are six ways funders can support policy advocacy before and after the legislative process: 1) Establish a Vision. Foundations can use their convening power to bring together the … Continue reading 6 Ways to Advocate for Policy Change
What will you fund, and what will you not fund? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any funder knows how quickly one can be overwhelmed by the complexity. Depending on your mission and capacity, your focus could include broad program areas such as health or education. Or, it might be concentrated in specific areas like increasing access to high-quality early childhood education. In general, there are three potential levels of change that I encourage my clients to explore to determine where they can effect change, based on their capacity: People Organization Fields For the sake of example, let’s assume your interest is in substance abuse treatment. Your funding focus could take one or more of the … Continue reading 3 Potential Levels of Change to Determine Your Funding Focus
Grantmakers are always looking for impact. We define the quantitative outcomes we want to achieve with our funding. We collect qualitative evidence through stories of those whose lives are changed as a result of our work. But we often forget to look for and capture the “ripple effect” of the grants that we make. Here are two examples: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation recently gave a grant to the Community Foundation of Sonoma County to update its business model. As part of that updating process, the Community Foundation is collecting and curating data about the business models of other community foundations across the country. They will share that information widely with their peers, who are hungry for it. Hence, … Continue reading Looking for Impact? Don’t Overlook the Ripple Effect
There are many people in the world who offer advice and guidance to people with means, especially when it comes to how one can best make more money. A wide range of specialized experts and advisors will gladly share their insights to make your decision-making process easier. Business consultants may help you set up a family office or expand your personal empire. Wealth advisors and financial planners help you enhance your earnings. Tax advisors help you protect your assets. These people can all be valuable resources and allies for growing your wealth, but what happens when you’re ready to give money away? Distributing wealth is a very different practice from earning it. The core practices and the nuances of philanthropic … Continue reading How To Choose The Right Philanthropic Advisor
“Philanthropy” is generally translated from its Latin roots as “the love of humankind.” That means we automatically assume that all philanthropists are motivated, at least to some degree, by a desire to make life better for others. We see this assumption at work across the philanthropic landscape, from generous individuals to ginormous foundations, all working to support nonprofit organizations that, in turn, help millions of people and address almost every kind of need imaginable. But too often, a philanthropist’s or foundation’s work and effectiveness, while generous in spirit, is confounded by the requirements and processes that the funder adopts — requirements and processes that make their nonprofit partners tear out their hair. It’s not the philanthropist’s intention to make life … Continue reading How Grantmakers Unwittingly Make Life Harder For Nonprofits
We all talk about big data, evaluation, dashboards and bench marks. But we tend to collect a lot of data and then end up unsure about what to do with it. Most of the time, it’s just 20% of the data that provide us with 80% of the information we need to make better decisions. Let me share a recent example of what I mean. I walked into the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto CA one morning for coffee. As I was drinking it, I heard the front desk clerk answer the phone, say “Yes, 72% and 395…you’re welcome,” and then hang up. I asked her what the numbers were for. She explained the hotel is at 72% capacity … Continue reading What Are Your Two Key Indicators?
Hint: The answer is yes. By now you probably know two things about me: I travel frequently, and I’m addicted to good coffee – especially first thing in the morning. So you can understand my delight to find a high-quality coffee service right on my hotel floor this morning! This was no in-room filter pack situation. To me, that’s like offering stale saltines to an artisan baker. I pass that up unless I’m completely desperate. But I also am reluctant to make myself presentable first thing upon waking just to go down multiple floors to a hotel lobby or a Starbuck’s to get the good stuff. On most trips, I actually bring a single-cup coffee maker with me on my … Continue reading Can You Improve Just a Smidgen?
My firm recently helped the David and Lucille Packard Foundation conduct a series of small gatherings of funders to discuss the Foundation’s learnings from a seven-year investment in summer learning. (For more information about that initiative, download the summary report we created, or visit the Foundation’s website.) While the convenings were specific to the summer learning topic, I observed several actions within them that I’d consider best practices for using small group gatherings for intentional learning, no matter what the subject. 1. Keep it casual and comfortable. Each convening was intentionally small – no more than 20 people – which allowed participants to gather around a common table. This fostered a sense of intimacy and a conversational tone. In addition, the Foundation provided a … Continue reading 5 Tips for Using Simple Convenings for Intentional Learning