Category Archives: Philanthropy 411 Blog

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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Embrace Abundance!

In my experience, one thing holds philanthropists back from achieving dramatic impact on the issues and causes they care most about: They have a poverty mentality. It might seem like an oxymoron for people with wealth, or professional access to wealth, to experience a form of poverty, but hear me out. A poverty mentality in philanthropy is a belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to efficiency and effectiveness, and that you and/or your staff don’t deserve to invest in your own success. For example: Your executive director spends a significant portion of her time handling basic administrative activities, such as meeting logistics, travel reimbursement, taking minutes, and copyediting board dockets, leaving her less time to focus on strategy, planning, … Continue reading Embrace Abundance!

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Collected Wisdom for Grantmakers

This week, instead of sharing one point of wisdom, I’d like to share many – 46 of them, in fact. That’s how many entries you’ll find in my newly published book, Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders. Why write a book? While a blog is great for sharing advice and helpful content in small, quick bursts of content, it also helps to have wisdom collected all in one place. This is true for just about any topic. As a parent, I value little pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up here and there from friends and relatives, but there’s a reason why Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care is one of the top-selling books of all time. As a consultant, I use … Continue reading Collected Wisdom for Grantmakers

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Five ways to avoid delusional altruism

This post was originally published on Smart Business.  It is reposted here with permission. Good businesses pride themselves on the good they do for others, both in terms of their products and services and in the way they give back to their communities. However, in my 16 years of experience advising corporate, institutional and individual philanthropists, I’ve found that many 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 those you’re trying to help or your own company or corporate foundation of the human and financial capital necessary to accomplish these goals. Let me give you two common examples of delusional altruism … Continue reading Five ways to avoid delusional altruism

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Collaboration 101

Foundations often expect nonprofits to collaborate, yet they less frequently turn that expectation on themselves. There is tremendous opportunity to exponentially expand the impact of your grantmaking through funder collaboration. If you’re just getting started in exploring collaboration, or want a refresher, here’s a quick look at the basics: What are the types of funder collaboration? Funder collaboration comes in all shapes and sizes, but in general there are three primary types: Shared learning. Funders come together to learn about latest topics and share experiences in a particular area of interest. Strategic alignment. Funders learn about and support various aspects of a shared agenda, such as a systemic change in a field or laying the groundwork for policy change, but … Continue reading Collaboration 101

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Learning How to Learn

Most philanthropies seek to be strategic and have an impact. Yet few build their own internal capacity to be strategic grantmakers. In particular, most funders forget to intentionally learn from their initial piloting and testing of strategies so that they can make early modifications and course corrections. Learning isn’t hard to do, but it must be intentional, documented, discussed within your team, and it must lead to decision making. It can’t simply exist inside a program officer’s head. One of our clients, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, asks themselves, “What will make or break this grant?” when deciding whether to recommend a significant grant to their board. They are clear on the risks involved and what needs to happen … Continue reading Learning How to Learn

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Summer Daydreaming is the Perfect Time to Re-Imagine Philanthropy

School’s out and summer is here! Time to pursue that great American pastime – the lazy summer vacation. Be it at the beach, in the mountains, or somewhere in between, there’s actually a great value in taking time off and letting your mind daydream for a bit. In fact, summer dreaming time is the perfect way to spark what could be a dramatic change in your philanthropy. All you need, really, is your own permission to do so. While you’re miles away from the phone, co-workers, and day-to-day expectations, give yourself time and space to dream a little. Take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to understand that any and all thoughts are welcome – even those that may feel unorthodox. … Continue reading Summer Daydreaming is the Perfect Time to Re-Imagine Philanthropy

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8 Tools Grantmakers Frequently Forget to Use

When most people think about philanthropy, it’s all about the money. But cold, hard cash is just one of many tools in a grantmaker’s tool belt. And some of those non-cash tools are far more effective when it comes to addressing grantee needs and community challenges. Here are eight tools grantmakers can – and should – use more often: Connections – Who are the people you know, and how could you make introductions or referrals for your grantees? If you’re like most people, you probably have a broader list of contacts than you realize. Don’t be afraid to use it. Think about the other funders, accountants, attorneys, consultants, government employees, and nonprofit leaders you’ve met. How could these people help … Continue reading 8 Tools Grantmakers Frequently Forget to Use

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