Category Archives: foundation

Is Your Giving Hampered By A Poverty Mentality?

You’re completely committed to supporting others with your giving, and you’re doing everything possible to ensure that every penny of your charitable assets is going directly to the nonprofits that need it. That’s how you ensure the most effective use of your philanthropy, right? Wrong. Squeezing every penny into the philanthropic pipeline isn’t the same thing as ensuring effectiveness. In fact, penny-pinching during the philanthropic process may do more harm than good to those you wish to serve. Many individuals and foundations think they’re being good and prudent stewards of charitable assets when in fact they are withholding investments that could open the doors to greater productivity and more access to additional philanthropic capital. I call this operating with a … Continue reading Is Your Giving Hampered By A Poverty Mentality?

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How Grantmakers Unwittingly Make Life Harder For Nonprofits

“Philanthropy” is generally translated from its Latin roots as “the love of humankind.” That means we automatically assume that all philanthropists are motivated, at least to some degree, ­by a desire to make life better for others. We see this assumption at work across the philanthropic landscape, from generous individuals to ginormous foundations, all working to support nonprofit organizations that, in turn, help millions of people and address almost every kind of need imaginable. But too often, a philanthropist’s or foundation’s work and effectiveness, while generous in spirit, is confounded by the requirements and processes that the funder adopts — requirements and processes that make their nonprofit partners tear out their hair. It’s not the philanthropist’s intention to make life … Continue reading How Grantmakers Unwittingly Make Life Harder For Nonprofits

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5 Tips for Using Simple Convenings for Intentional Learning

My firm recently helped the David and Lucille Packard Foundation conduct a series of small gatherings of funders to discuss the Foundation’s learnings from a seven-year investment in summer learning. (For more information about that initiative, download the summary report we created, or visit the Foundation’s website.) While the convenings were specific to the summer learning topic, I observed several actions within them that I’d consider best practices for using small group gatherings for intentional learning, no matter what the subject. 1. Keep it casual and comfortable. Each convening was intentionally small – no more than 20 people – which allowed participants to gather around a common table. This fostered a sense of intimacy and a conversational tone. In addition, the Foundation provided a … Continue reading 5 Tips for Using Simple Convenings for Intentional Learning

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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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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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Equity Resources for Philanthropy

  My philanthropy advisory firm has been pursuing, studying and documenting equity within philanthropy. In this important step toward philanthropic progress, we are working on developing and discovering what equity means to funders, foundations and organizations, both individually and across the field. The following list is a variety of resources which we have found helpful in our ongoing study of equity, including many that we have authored! This list is periodically updated. Resources authored by Putnam Consulting Group: The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity (full article)* The Road to Achieving Equity: 12 Findings from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity (2-page summary)* What the Heck … Continue reading Equity Resources for Philanthropy

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5 Ways Foundations Cause More Problems Than They Solve

It’s the nature of philanthropy to want to help. It’s what foundations were created to do. Yet all too often, foundations, corporate grantmakers, and donors unintentionally cause problems instead of helping to solve them. Even with the best intentions, foundations take actions that are counter to the outcome they – and their grantees – hope to achieve. Here are five common examples: 1.     Providing short term funding for a long-term outcome. Most funders are loathe to commit to any one organization or initiative for more than a year or two. (In fact, if foundations were people, we’d call many of them commitment-phobes and recommend therapy!) Even when foundations have long-term goals like closing achievement gaps in schools or improving drinking … Continue reading 5 Ways Foundations Cause More Problems Than They Solve

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Three Things That Local Organizations Know But Foundations Often Miss

The Putnam team recently authored two case studies for Casey Family Programs about their Communities of Hope initiative. In Hagerstown, Maryland and Gainesville, Florida, we explored collaborations among local agencies to improve conditions and opportunities for families and children. These projects were wide-reaching and complex – just like the myriad of issues they seek to address. But in both, we saw three common threads that we believe are making these successful efforts for the community and successful investments for Casey Family Programs. These aren’t aspects of success that you can measure with metrics or data, and they are things that many funders often either take for granted or completely overlook. Yet, when they are present, we believe they make a night-and-day difference in effectiveness:  1. Personal … Continue reading Three Things That Local Organizations Know But Foundations Often Miss

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Create a Culture of Learning

A culture of learning is one that encourages ongoing inquiry and questioning. It is comfortable with the fact that there is always more to learn and explore, and therefore the “work” of learning is never-ending. Learning is at the core of all research and development. The more you approach work with a sense of curiosity and inquiry, the more you can research and develop new approaches. This can be a challenge for foundation staff or boards who are geared toward finding the “one” solution to a challenge, checking it off the list, and moving on. But the culture of learning and ongoing inquiry is why cell phones now fit in the palm of your hand, and why more cancers are … Continue reading Create a Culture of Learning

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