“We can’t just put a Band-Aid on this. We need to change the system!” How many times have you heard that statement? It’s true. Most of the issues funders address will ultimately benefit greatly by systems change. But how do funders play a role in that change? I define systems change as altering entrenched policies and practices in society. Generally, there are three approaches that funders use to engage in systems change work. I think of them as using lenses, frameworks and movements. 1. Using a systems change lens to drive philanthropic mission at individual foundations As donors and foundations learn and grow, and come to understand why systems change work is important – even critical – for achieving their … Continue reading Three Ways Funders Can Change Systems And Drive Impact
The human, economic and environmental toll of natural disasters in the last few months has been nothing short of overwhelming. Even if we sit miles away from danger ourselves, the stories and images of those in need call us to act. But the desire to help those in need after natural disasters can quickly lead to a confusion. There are hundreds of worthy agencies where you could potentially make a gift, but how do you know what charitable investment will deliver the greatest impact? My suggestion? Consider a community foundation. Community foundations are essentially philanthropic hubs that provide leadership, stewardship and leverage for a broad range of individual charitable contributions. They supply charitable support to nonprofit organizations, but also build … Continue reading 10 Ways Community Foundations Are A Best-Bet For Disaster Giving
What will you fund, and what will you not fund? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any funder knows how quickly one can be overwhelmed by the complexity. Depending on your mission and capacity, your focus could include broad program areas such as health or education. Or, it might be concentrated in specific areas like increasing access to high-quality early childhood education. In general, there are three potential levels of change that I encourage my clients to explore to determine where they can effect change, based on their capacity: People Organization Fields For the sake of example, let’s assume your interest is in substance abuse treatment. Your funding focus could take one or more of the … Continue reading 3 Potential Levels of Change to Determine Your Funding Focus
Grantmakers are always looking for impact. We define the quantitative outcomes we want to achieve with our funding. We collect qualitative evidence through stories of those whose lives are changed as a result of our work. But we often forget to look for and capture the “ripple effect” of the grants that we make. Here are two examples: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation recently gave a grant to the Community Foundation of Sonoma County to update its business model. As part of that updating process, the Community Foundation is collecting and curating data about the business models of other community foundations across the country. They will share that information widely with their peers, who are hungry for it. Hence, … Continue reading Looking for Impact? Don’t Overlook the Ripple Effect
1. Don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. All efforts at innovation should be in pursuit of a compelling reason. Further, that compelling reason should align with a foundation’s mission and vision. While funding a new app may sound fun, if the new app doesn’t directly impact an audience or issue you’ve targeted, leave it to someone else. 2. Innovation doesn’t have to be a big deal. Effective innovations can be small but brilliant internal changes. For example, redefining a grant process with the grantee in mind instead of staff. It can also be as simple as an effort to shift perspective and look at your work from the outside in. 3. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Funders who innovate almost … Continue reading Innovation and Philanthropy: It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated!
I am surprised by how often grantmakers see their role as funder, but not as a provider of services for which there are customers. True, the philanthropic customer is different than a business customer. As a foundation, you’re not selling a consumer good, but you are selling ideas, change, and a belief that communities can and should become better. And just as a private business needs customers to buy its products or services to keep its operation going, foundations need customers to buy into their missions and be willing to work as partners to achieve them. Philanthropic customers include the nonprofits you serve, donors (especially if you’re a community foundation), community partners, and even other funders who might align their … Continue reading Take the Customer Service Challenge
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?
“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
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
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