Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

Uber Philanthropy

I am a recent user and fan of Uber, a new app that allows you to immediately find a car service, visually track the car, communicate with the driver, and pay remotely. It’s easy, reliable, fast, and consumer-driven. I think philanthropy leaders can learn from Uber about how to innovate for greater impact. It’s all about taking a standard practice we take for granted, turning it on its head, and radically improving the customer experience.   That’s what Uber did. We’ve all stood on street corners watching taxi after taxi drive by, wondering when and if one would ever become available. Uber took the obvious (a stressful, risky, and inefficient mode of transportation) and created a radically different customer experience (you select

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3 Ways to Reduce Labor Intensity

Grantmakers, and their consultants, tend to overcomplicate things. Let me give you two simple examples of how this wastes time and prevents success. First: biweekly meetings. I’ve worked for funders who wanted me to stage biweekly meetings, for groups both large and small. In all cases, the process came before the goal: Each funder decided to have biweekly meetings before thinking about what they really wanted to accomplish. How effective the meetings were in reaching the goal was not a consideration. Second example: one-year grants. Offering a year of funding sounds fiscally responsible, since you’re checking for success before funding another year. But if you’re really likely to keep funding this organization, aren’t you being fiscally irresponsible? Think about the

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Stop the Board Docket Madness

5 practical ways to reduce labor intensity, simplify work, and generate more creativity among your staff  Every year, and generally every quarter, tens of thousands of foundations and their staff go into a frenzy of activity preparing for board meetings. They prepare binders of carefully scripted summaries of the grants they’re recommending for approval. These involve layers of bureaucratic approval processes, PowerPoint presentations, page lengths, word counts, and wordsmithing. I have clients who warn me in advance that they will not be available for two full weeks before their board meeting deadlines. Then they spend another half week on the actual board meeting, and finally they spend the next week catching up on emails, voicemails, and meetings they couldn’t get

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Four Strategies for Communications Planning in Grantmaking Initiatives

  Kris discusses the importance of having open, transparent communication from all participants within a grant making program. This podcast provides examples of how to implement top-down, bottom-up, inside-out and all around communication. Podcast: Play in new window | Download

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Purge, Plan, Reward: Your 3-Step Process for Getting Anything Done Quickly

For once I would like to enter autumn feeling on top of things: my client work mapped out for the year, a clear understanding of how to meet my remaining annual goals in these next four months, and my kids’ school activities listed in my calendar. I would like to look fabulous in a wardrobe of “fall transitional clothes,” rather than resemble Eric Carle’s Mixed-Up Chameleon in some crazy combo of flip-flops, cotton dresses, and wool sweaters. So I’ve decided to implement a three-step process to solve my fall dilemma: Purge, Plan, Reward. I’m going to block out three solid days in the next month to: Purge: Out with the old (or the stressful, or the irrelevant) before starting something new.

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Grantmakers Should Think Like Consultants

I believe foundations could save time, solve problems more efficiently, and add greater value if their senior leadership would think like consultants. Let me explain: Most consultants work on a time-and-materials basis, meaning that they have an hourly rate. Foundation leaders who hire those consultants deem the value of their work worth that fee. However, foundation leaders rarely calculate the cost and value of their own staff’s time — which is a pretty simple thing to do. Let’s say the annual salary of a senior program officer at your foundation is $100,000. Let’s assume her annual benefits are 25 percent, so now you are at $125,000. There are 2,080 working hours per year, so if you divide $125,000 by 2,080

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The 4 Dimensions of a Successful Communications Plan

No one likes to feel left out or overlooked, and when key stakeholders feel that way, the results can be painful and long lasting. I recently conducted a focus group of community leaders who expressed serious concerns about the lack of communication within a significant regional initiative. When I asked the group what could be done to fix this, another participant said something I’ll never forget: “Communications need to be top-down, bottom-up, inside out, and all around.” I think that sums up the components of an effective communications plan. The next time you launch a new grantmaking program or initiative for any issue, think through these four aspects of your communication needs so that none of your key stakeholders feels

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Who Is Your Customer?

It’s easy to get mired in the way things have always been done, and sometimes it leaves us blind to our customers’ real needs. So take a moment and ask yourself one critical question: Who is my customer? In my experience this is a question that most foundations simply don’t ask themselves. I was talking last week with a funder client (let’s call her Mary) who said that a big lesson she learned is that they should give their applicants more time to respond to a request for proposal. They had only given their applicants about a month; during that month, the applicant had to decide whether and how to apply jointly with other organizations that were also invited, prepare

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Keep It Simple

We often devise complex solutions to problems, when the best solution is usually the simplest. For example, many economically struggling urban cities desperately try to devise strategies to create bustling downtown neighborhoods where people actually want to spend time. Cleveland, near where I live, is one such community that has spent recent decades trying to do this. Recently I had a few moments in downtown Cleveland to catch my breath between meetings, and came across this urban plaza filled with pick-up corn hole games. I watched dozens of people, likely on their lunch break, having a blast playing corn hole (for those of you unfamiliar with the game, you essentially toss small bean bags into a hole cut out of

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