Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

Reflections from Last Week’s Equity Post

Last week, I used this space to repost an article about the definition of equity that my colleague, Betsey Russell, and I published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. I also shared the news about a new field scan we produced for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about the ways in which foundations are trying to incorporate equity into their work – both externally in grantmaking and in internal operations. Clearly, there is great interest in this topic. Our open and click-through rates for that newsletter were off the charts. We received feedback and great ideas from a number of readers, and several comments on the SSIR blog. All of these comments reinforced a few key points about equity … Continue reading Reflections from Last Week’s Equity Post

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Changing the Story of Summer

  This is a guest post by Michael Funk.  It was originally published on the csba blog, and is reposted here with his permission. Which sounds more appealing to you for a summer activity: sitting in a stuffy school classroom doing remedial work, or hopping on a bus with your friends to go chase minnows in a nearby river? The traditional paradigm for summer learning has been the former, and it’s felt like a punishment. At the California Department of Education, we’re working to change that paradigm and write a new narrative about a summer that is as engaging as it is educational. The need for summer learning opportunities is clear. Research is proving, time and again, that a vibrant … Continue reading Changing the Story of Summer

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What the Heck Does “Equity” Mean?

  This post was originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and is co-authored by Elizabeth Russell. A clear definition of equity would seem paramount to galvanizing philanthropy into action around this increasingly used term-but the field is only beginning to explore what it really means. The term “equity” is spreading like wildfire in some philanthropic circles. It is showing up more and more in organizations’ mission and values statements. It is making its way into the titles of conferences, plenary and breakout sessions, and meetings at the national, state, and local levels. At a recent gathering of organizations working on issues surrounding boys and men of color, someone lamented that the word “equity” was being co-opted by organizations … Continue reading What the Heck Does “Equity” Mean?

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Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

  This is a guest post by Allen Smart, vice president of programs, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. In a New York Times opinion piece earlier this year by Dr. Adam Grant, a Wharton management and psychology professor, Grant put forward the argument that real innovation comes not from endless practice and refinement but from creating a space for children, in this case, “to think for themselves” and to find “joy in work.” Further, Grant writes that adults’ creative contributions depend on “the breadth, not just the depth, of our knowledge and experience.” These concepts also ring true for philanthropy. We are in the midst of what feels like a downward spiral that started with measurement and return on investment; took … Continue reading Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

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What Respectful Philanthropy Looks Like

Last week, I wrote about the small – but troubling – culture of disrespect that I’ve observed bubbling up in the field of philanthropy. In that post, I shared examples of grantmakers who disrespected colleagues, grantees and partners by doing things like intentionally double-booking their calendars, purposefully making grant applications lengthy, or refusing to shoulder their share of the cash flow. I also said that the culture of disrespect is still the exception rather than the rule. This week, I’d like to share a shining example of what respectful philanthropy can look like. This example comes from one of my clients, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. It’s a statement of Grantee Experience Standards that the Foundation developed after asking … Continue reading What Respectful Philanthropy Looks Like

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Get Back Out There!

I hope you’ve had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it’s time to hunker down and get back in that office to get things done, right? Wrong. In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see solutions to community problems. There’s no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging multiple connections. And there are few people better suited to building those connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world. Building connections isn’t something you can do behind a desk. You need to get … Continue reading Get Back Out There!

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A Culture of Disrespect in Philanthropy

There is a lot of talk in philanthropy about organizational culture in foundations. I don’t know about you, but I have noticed a culture of disrespect when it comes to the way foundations deal with grantees, consultant partners, and even themselves. Luckily – in my experience – this is the exception not the norm. Still, it’s troubling. Here are three examples: A foundation colleague told me his foundation has a “culture of double booking meetings” including among their own staff. He said, for example, you might schedule an hour-long meeting with a colleague to discuss an important matter, and when the colleague shows up you learn you only have 10 minutes because she booked another meeting at the same time. … Continue reading A Culture of Disrespect in Philanthropy

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The Art of Streamlining

Much has been written about efforts to “streamline” foundation application processes – reducing the number of hoops applicants must jump through, right-sizing applications to the grant amounts, and asking questions in such a way that the answers are truly useful for funder decision making. But extraordinary grantmakers move beyond streamlining applications and grant reports to reviewing every aspect of their internal operations to identify opportunities to streamline. They audit their operations to find unnecessary blockages, duplication, wasted efforts, and barriers to impact. Why? Consider what the following examples of inefficiency might do reduce productivity or effectiveness: A foundation assigns six different staff members to review and edit a simple four-page case study. A funder requires staff to issue RFPs every … Continue reading The Art of Streamlining

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Strategic, Responsive, or Both?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about funders weighing the options between strategic grantmaking and responsive grantmaking. The general angst seems to come from a sense that all funding must be strategic in order to make a difference. While it’s true that strategic philanthropy (as described below) can lead to broader or deeper outcomes, there is a time and a place for both. Let’s take a look at each: Responsive grantmaking is being open to receiving proposals and ideas from any nonprofit, and allowing the nonprofits to drive the agenda. Requests are initiated by the nonprofit, rather than by a funder seeking them out. This doesn’t mean that a foundation doesn’t have core areas of focus, but that within those … Continue reading Strategic, Responsive, or Both?

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4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

Too often foundations request “innovative ideas” from their grantees but fail to accomplish the same thing internally — or even define what “innovation” means to them. The implied assumption is that innovation “just happens.” Further, lack of clear definition has come to imply that innovation must be a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development. As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people naturally feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula by business gurus Michel … Continue reading 4 Steps for Fostering Innovation

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