Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

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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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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