Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

Clarity Trumps Strategy

I’m a highly organized person, and can spend endless hours creating strategies, with corresponding tactics, timelines and to-do lists. But in my experience, one thing trumps strategy: clarity. You can have all the strategies, logic models, and theories of change in the world, but you won’t get far if you aren’t crystal clear inside your head about what you are trying to accomplish. Let me give you two quick examples from my life, neither of which have anything to do with philanthropy. Many years ago I was in an unhealthy relationship. For five years. Thousands of dollars of therapy later, it wasn’t until I had clarity that this person wasn’t going to change, I needed to get out, and I

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The Value of Appreciating, and Letting Go, of Your Past

I recently gave away my kitchen table to my stepson. My motives were part altruistic (he needed one) and part selfish (great excuse to buy myself a new one!). But I did not expect the wave of sadness I felt as a result.  I’ve had this kitchen table since my mid twenties. I remember my mom buying it for me from Pottery Barn, its location in the kitchen of my San Francisco apartment, and all the people I’ve had over for dinner around that table. The table has seen me through five relationships, three moves, over 20 parties, and countless life changes. I sat at that table crying after I put my cat to sleep. I started my consulting business

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Does Your Grantmaking Initiative Take Initiative?

You’re designing a new philanthropic initiative and you expect results quickly. Which adjectives would you rather described your team? Option 1: Get up and go attitude, energetic, empowered, speedy, driven, inventive, and resourceful Option 2: Unsure, unclear, lethargic, slow, idle, and resistant If you have a pulse, I am guessing you chose Option 1. In my experience however, too many new philanthropic efforts crawl out of the gate because the participants and leaders are operating at Option 2. They don’t take initiative. But it’s relatively simple to set and elevate expectations for initiative-taking. In my consulting practice my team uses the “Five Degrees of Initiative” originally proposed in a Harvard Business Review Classic article “Who’s Got the Monkey” by William

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4 Stepparenting Lessons for Grantmakers

I’m a stepparent and a stepchild. Apparently I am not alone. A staggering 42% of U.S. adults have a steprelationship–either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild. This translates to 95.5 million adults and doesn’t include all the stepkids under 18. This number is probably actually larger, when you count all the boyfriends, girlfriends, and fiancés of people with kids, plus those kids themselves. Essentially, there’s a whole bunch of adults and children wondering, “Who is this person, why are they in my life, and what am I supposed to do with them?” Here are four stepparenting lessons I’ve learned that apply to philanthropy and consulting: 1. You have all the responsibility and zero authority. As a stepparent you might

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Philanthropy Needs Strategy and Judgment, Not Tools and Tactics

Philanthropy and nonprofit leaders will continue jumping on tools and tactics, when strategy and judgment are needed. That’s the first philanthropy trend I predict for 2015, and I will share four more in the coming weeks. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean: 1 – Infographics: I’m all for finding visual and creative ways to educate people, but for the past few years people have jumped on the infographic bandwagon as if it were a solution for all information sharing. As a result, I’ve seen documents so crammed full of graphics and percentages they make my head spin. Not everything needs an infographic. 2 – Crowdfunding: I had a foundation program officer recently tell me that

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Five Trends on the Philanthropic Horizon

Next Friday November 21 I will be giving a webinar for Philanthropy Ohio predicting five trends that are likely to affect your philanthropic practice in the next few years. Click here to register! I will write a blog about each trend in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime I would love to hear your predictions for philanthropy. What trends are seeing? What predictions do you make for 2015 or 2020? Please post them in the comment section below and I will share them in a future blog post. Share

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Who should we follow as we get started on twitter?

This blog was originally published by the National Center for Family Philanthropy on August 15, 2013.  It is reposted here with their permission. We’ve heard a lot about the potential value of Twitter for keeping connected with nonprofits and fellow grantmakers in our community. Do you have suggestions for specific Twitter feeds that our foundation staff and board member may choose to follow as we get started? New to the world of Twitter? Here is a working list of NCFP staff favorite Twitter feeds from experts in the philanthropy and nonprofit world, and NCFP friends and funders to get you started. If you’re active on twitter and think you should be listed here, send us a tweet @familygiving and we’ll

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What I Learned About Customer Service from Marriott

Last week I stayed at the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco, and I was blown away by the nonstop, excellent level of customer service I experienced. What I learned is applicable to foundations and consultants, and I want to share six lessons learned with you. 1. Treat everyone like they are important (even when you are busy). This convention hotel must have been booked solid, with a Salesforce convention happening one block down the street. Yet my colleague and I felt like we were the only guests at the hotel. Front desk staff were attentive, friendly, and willing to take extra time to accommodate my colleague, who was on crutches and needed certain room accommodations. All staff were prompt, cheerful, and

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Increase Transparency by Broadening Your Perspective

This blog was originally written as a guest post for GlassPockets, a blog of the Foundation Center. When funders want to know about a particular issue or have questions about process, they often look first to peers and industry associations for answers. That makes perfect sense—the people who do the same job you do are likely to understand where you’re coming from and have experienced something similar. But if funders stop there, they could be selling themselves short. There are also many people who have expertise on the very issue, process, challenge or innovation that a grantmaker is pondering, but are not employed by a foundation or an industry association. These “knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable

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Delusional Altruism

Foundations pride themselves on the good they do for others; that’s the very nature and culture of philanthropy. However, in my 15 years of experience advising foundations, I’ve found that most foundations suffer from delusional altruism. Delusional altruism is when you are genuinely trying to help people – but paying absolutely no attention to the operational inefficiency and waste that drains grantseekers or your own foundation of the human and financial capital necessary to accomplish these goals. Let me give you three examples: A foundation gives itself five weeks to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) that it has already written, but gives grantseekers only three weeks to apply. Five different departments within a large national foundation each had a

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