Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

Bureaucracy Whack-a-Mole

Summertime always reminds me of beach movies set on the Jersey Shore. There’s always a boardwalk with an ice-cream stand, a Ferris wheel, and an arcade with lots of lights and sounds. And in that arcade, you can bet there’s an old-school game of “Whack-a-Mole.” For the uninitiated, Whack-a-Mole is a game in which an automated “mole” pops its head up and quickly ducks back down into a series of holes. The mole appears randomly and suddenly, while the player attempts to bash it with a mallet. Points accrue when mallet meets mole. The higher the skill level, the faster the mole’s movements. It occurs to me that the mole is a fitting metaphor for the bureaucracy that often invades … Continue reading Bureaucracy Whack-a-Mole

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Why Consistent Quality is Key to Your Philanthropic Relationships

On a recent trip to Mexico City, I was delighted to find a Starbucks right next door to my hotel. For a moment, I felt sort of guilty that I was being an imperialist coffee drinker and that I should go find an amazing Mexican coffee experience to try. But a quick gut check proved the opposite: I was jet lagged from an ill-advised red eye flight from San Francisco, and my priority was caffeine in the form of coffee that I could depend on. I like Starbucks’ Pikes Place blend and I needed the comfort and reliability of its consistent quality. A few weeks later, I was walking in Palo Alto to — you guessed it — a Starbucks. I walked … Continue reading Why Consistent Quality is Key to Your Philanthropic Relationships

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There’s a Philanthropy-Serving Organization for That!

Call ‘em what you want – in my 18 years advising foundations and philanthropists I’ve seen the terms “regional association of grantmakers,” “funder networks,” “affinity groups,” “philanthropy communities,” and more – and now the new term is “philanthropy-serving organization” (PSO). Whatever you call it, the value is timeless – bringing funders of similar interests, types, sizes, and/or geographic locations together to network and learn from each other. In my work advising foundation CEOs, I’ve noticed that as leaders transition to new roles and move to new organizations, and as foundation priorities and grantmaking strategies evolve, many funders fail to take advantage of – and sometimes fail to even notice – PSOs that might meet their evolving needs. For example: Consider … Continue reading There’s a Philanthropy-Serving Organization for That!

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Three Ways Funders Delude Themselves About Equity

This article was originally written for and published by Philanthropy New York. The original post can be read here. Funders, for the most part, want to do the right thing and operate with the best of intentions. But within those good intentions, funders too often suffer from what I call “delusional altruismSM.” Delusional altruism is when funders inadvertently get in their own way, or make life more challenging for their grantees and partners – and in doing so, prevent themselves from making the greatest impact. In the worst cases, they can do even more damage than good. Delusional altruism usually manifests itself in seemingly benign ways, such as making a grant application and approval process too cumbersome, taking three weeks to … Continue reading Three Ways Funders Delude Themselves About Equity

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8 Silo-Smashing Trends in Philanthropy

This article was originally written and published for Exponent Philanthropy. Read the original post here. In my work as a philanthropic advisor, I come across philanthropy in all forms- from individual giving to institutional grantmaking and everything in between. It used to be that most of my clients engaged in their work from behind a wall of protection. Charity and grantmaking were held aside and in addition to other forces for good. However, over the past few years I’ve noticed philanthropy in all forms becoming less siloed and more interwoven with the world around it. Here are eight manifestations of this trend: 1. CEO branding. Foundation CEOs and high-net-worth donors, following in the footsteps of their corporate counterparts, are realizing the personal and … Continue reading 8 Silo-Smashing Trends in Philanthropy

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5 Keys to Establishing Trust

When it comes right down to it, being an effective philanthropist means establishing trust with the people you wish to help and the partners you’ll want and need to work with. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a sophisticated CEO of a nationwide organization or a hardscrabble leader of a struggling grassroots start-up. As human beings, we depend on levels of trust to guide us into new relationships and to see them through even when the going might get tough. And securing that mutual willingness to see things through in tough times is both the reason to establish trust and the reward for doing so. It may seem like a complex issue, but establishing trust really isn’t that difficult. As an … Continue reading 5 Keys to Establishing Trust

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6 Steps To Stave Off The Post-Summer Panic Before It Starts

Spring is definitely in the air! In between client engagements, I’m getting busy with finalizing summer plans – projects around the house, family vacations, camps for the kids – and I know that many of my clients and colleagues are busy doing the same. If this year is like many others before it, we’ll dive into hectic summer schedules and breathe a sigh of relief in September as we wave our children back to school. Then we’ll take a good hard look at the work we’ve yet to accomplish and feel a surging sense of post-summer panic. We all do it. That’s why I usually get a rash of calls in September about projects that must either expend budgets or … Continue reading 6 Steps To Stave Off The Post-Summer Panic Before It Starts

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When Tactical Trees Obscure the Strategic Forest

In my consultations with foundation boards, I’ve met many hardworking, well-meaning people who are often frustrated when they can’t seem to get anywhere in terms of foundation accomplishments and effectiveness. They say things like: “We tried funding that, but it didn’t work.” “We need to do some program-related investments.” “If we had a better email newsletter, people would understand what we’re doing.” “We should require a common budget form from all grantees.” To these board members, my first word of advice is, “You’re losing sight of the forest because you’re surrounding yourself with trees.” What I mean is, “You’re so focused on tactics that you’ve lost sight of your strategy. I can’t really blame them, of course. Tactics are easy … Continue reading When Tactical Trees Obscure the Strategic Forest

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Death By a Thousand Data Points

Let me start this post by saying that data is not a bad thing. It informs our decisions much more accurately than our guts, and it keeps us honest in terms of outcomes. Both of those functions keep philanthropy moving forward in effective ways. But too much data can also grind your effectiveness to a halt. Let me explain. I’ve facilitated several strategic planning sessions where my clients have begun with a request for data. Together, we’ve determined which data points will be necessary for informing their strategic decisions, and I’ve mobilized the Putnam team to help collect and analyze it. We present our findings and recommendations. There is enough there to inform the planning process and move forward. This … Continue reading Death By a Thousand Data Points

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Get in the Spirit of Collaboration

Donors and foundation leaders often expect nonprofits to collaborate, but they less frequently turn that expectation on themselves. Yet there is tremendous opportunity to exponentially expand impact through funder collaboration. In fact, it is rare for an individual or a funder to produce meaningful research or develop an idea all alone. Collaboration allows for greater leverage of ideas, investments, and reach to better ensure that research is thorough and conclusive, and that new products or approaches work and are relevant to those they’re intended to serve. What does it mean to collaborate? Funder collaborations happen in many different ways, all of which leverage the strengths of each collaborative partner to achieve a common goal. Collaborations can be formal and complex, with written agreements and well-defined roles and … Continue reading Get in the Spirit of Collaboration

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