Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

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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Innovation is for Everyone

“Innovation” is one of those terms with many connotations, so it’s important to consider what you mean when you use it in your philanthropy. If you don’t have a clear definition, it leaves the onus to define and deliver innovation completely up to others, or it implies that innovation is something that “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. Funders give little or no thought to how they expect grantees to be innovative – they certainly don’t help provide technical assistance or capacity support to help achieve innovation. And while everyone wants to … Continue reading Innovation is for Everyone

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The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

We often look to external sources for best practices, hoping that others have figured out the ideal way to accomplish something and we can simply duplicate it. But when is the last time you searched inside your organization for internal best practices? If the answer is rarely or never, read on! With a little time and intention, you can make dramatic improvements in your operations and grantmaking. Let me give you an easy example. Swimming is a regular part of my week day exercise routine. My pool is lucky to have a wonderful lifeguard named John. Whenever the lanes are full, John helps new swimmers identify a lane and asks the lane’s occupant it he or she would mind sharing. John’s friendly manner always solicits … Continue reading The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

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From Well Done to What’s Next

As some of you may have noticed, I recently was inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame by my own mentor and advisor, Alan Weiss, Ph.D. This honor was especially gratifying – not because of the fanfare but because, just like most people, I like to know that the work I’ve put into something (in this case, my consulting practice) has paid off. Over the last decade, I’ve invested hours of my time and a good amount of my own money in my personal professional development, striving to become the most effective and valuable philanthropy advisor I can be. I’ve learned one-on-one from top global consultants, improved my consulting practice by honing in on key strengths and opportunities, … Continue reading From Well Done to What’s Next

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5 Ways to Prepare for the Unexpected

Unexpected events are a part of philanthropy, in much the same way surprise snows can be a part of spring. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing (and whether or not school is cancelled), that snow can be a blessing or a curse. For funders, unexpected events run the gamut from creating inconvenience to rocking entire worlds. Key staff may leave your team at a critical time. External forces (such as presidential elections, say) can make dramatic shifts in the environment in which your focus your giving. Or, as was the case with one foundation I’ve worked with, government leaders who were valuable partners for your initiative may end up in jail for corruption (completely unrelated to your … Continue reading 5 Ways to Prepare for the Unexpected

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Who’s In The Room? Who Should Be?

Bringing people together is one of the key roles of philanthropy. Foundations are especially suited to convene those with similar interests and shared goals, as well as those with differing viewpoints who need to find common ground. And within foundations themselves – especially those with larger staffs – bringing diverse and inclusive teams together to explore a new initiative, create a strategic plan, check in on progress, or reflect on evaluation results can help spur new ideas and more effective actions. As I’ve worked with dozens of foundation staffs and boards, the notion of inclusion seems to be alive and well. In fact, in some cases, the internal and external gatherings hosted by foundations can be almost too inclusive. To be … Continue reading Who’s In The Room? Who Should Be?

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Philanthropy and Science in an “Alternative Truths” World

Guest blog by Michael Green, CEO of Center for Environmental Health, www.ceh.org, and  former Putnam Consulting Client. For more than two decades, our organization, the Center for Environmental Health, has worked to protect children and families from harmful chemicals in consumer products and in our air, water and food. Among our many efforts has been work on national campaigns to address the threats that genetically engineered or GMO crops pose to health, the environment and sustainable farming. In talking to philanthropists about this work, we have often been faced with long discussions to dispel the myths they have learned about GMOs from the mainstream media. For years, the companies that make GMOs have flooded the media with unverified claims, promising … Continue reading Philanthropy and Science in an “Alternative Truths” World

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Prudent Risk is Wise But Don’t “Bet the Farm”

If you’re familiar with research and development philanthropy, you know that when a foundation decides to invest in R&D, they must be willing to take risks. But not every research opportunity is a good one, and not every innovative idea should be pursued. In considering an R&D investment, assess each opportunity wisely and take risks that are prudent, calculated, and thoroughly explored. Likewise, don’t “bet the farm” on any single piece of research or in developing any individual idea, product, or service. Instead, think of each R&D investment as just one part of a diversified portfolio. There are four criteria that can help foundations assess risk in any R&D investment: 1. Cost. What investment will this require in terms of grants, … Continue reading Prudent Risk is Wise But Don’t “Bet the Farm”

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How We Constrain Ourselves

I fly a good bit for my work. As a seasoned traveler, you’d expect that I’d have strategies and practices I use to make the experience more comfortable and productive. There are other things I do because they are obvious and expected. For example, when in first class, use the first-class bathroom. But recently, as I sat in first class waiting to use the bathroom for more than 10 minutes, it occurred to me that the coach bathroom was identical AND the walk allowed me to stretch my legs. I had constrained myself by sticking to my typical airplane routine and not considering all the options available. Walking back through a half empty plane I was surprised at how many … Continue reading How We Constrain Ourselves

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Remember to Say Thank You

There is a lot of angst flying around these days. Uncertainty on the national stage and in our home communities seems to have everyone on edge. Those kinds of feelings tend to make one more inwardly focused and protective. While that’s only natural – a kind of a self-preservation response – it won’t do any of us any good. Withdrawing into ourselves won’t make us easier to get along with, or make us safer, or even make us feel any better. You know what will? Letting others know you care about them and appreciate what they do. Reaching out can be as simple as saying “thank you” to those who work beside you every day, or who amplify your philanthropic … Continue reading Remember to Say Thank You

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