Category Archives: leadership

Bureaucracy Whack-a-Mole

Summertime always reminds me of beach movies set on the Jersey Shore. There’s always a boardwalk with an ice-cream stand, a Ferris wheel, and an arcade with lots of lights and sounds. And in that arcade, you can bet there’s an old-school game of “Whack-a-Mole.” For the uninitiated, Whack-a-Mole is a game in which an automated “mole” pops its head up and quickly ducks back down into a series of holes. The mole appears randomly and suddenly, while the player attempts to bash it with a mallet. Points accrue when mallet meets mole. The higher the skill level, the faster the mole’s movements. It occurs to me that the mole is a fitting metaphor for the bureaucracy that often invades … Continue reading Bureaucracy Whack-a-Mole

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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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A Little Less Santa, A Little More Staying Power

It feels great to play Santa. If you celebrate Christmas, there’s nothing like a Christmas holiday to make you remember that giving is fun. You find a present, wrap it up nicely, see the joy and excitement on someone else’s face, and feel good about what you’ve done. For many philanthropists, it’s the same: you write a nice check, present it to a nonprofit, see the joy and excitement on their faces, smile for the camera, and then feel good about what you’ve done. But then what? The problem with Santa-style giving is that it’s a once-a-year gig. But during the other 364 days of the year, the organizations you’ve made grants to still have ongoing needs, unexpected challenges, and … Continue reading A Little Less Santa, A Little More Staying Power

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The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

A week ago, our country was in a totally different place than it is now. Regardless of your politics, there’s no question that we are most certainly entering some very uncertain times. Like everyone else, grantmakers of all stripes are looking around, trying to figure out how we got here and what the new lay of the land will be. Here are seven things that immediately come to mind as we consider the next four years: 1- Don’t beat yourself up.  The election outcome made it clear that many of us in philanthropy have overlooked the sentiments of a silent but seething portion of the country. But while it’s great to be reflective and introspective and think about what your … Continue reading The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

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Foundations Move at the Speed of…Snails

I was sitting in a workshop last week with some of the world’s leading business consultants. We were advised that in this time of rapidly changing technology and “disruption” what organizational leaders value most is speed. The more we can help our clients rapidly improve, develop and implement strategies, and generate new innovations, the better. “Except for philanthropy,” I thought. In my experience many grantmakers move at a snail’s pace. Let me give you some examples: Finding it perfectly acceptable to take nine months to make a grant. (Why not nine weeks, or even nine days? If you really need nine months to make a decision, something is very wrong with your process.) “Collaborations” of funders that meet monthly for years without … Continue reading Foundations Move at the Speed of…Snails

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5 Ways Philanthropy Can Support The Electoral Process

No matter what your political leanings, I think we can all agree that this year’s election cycle has been one of the most tense and unpleasant in recent history. It’s enough to turn voters off from voting at all, and we probably all have a colleague, friend or family member somewhere who has announced their intention to skip the polls this year. But even if the choices may be unappealing to some, the act of voting is still important. Voting is a right, but it’s also a responsibility. And for many segments of our nation’s population (women, people of color, immigrants), voting represents the culmination of a hard-fought battle. While funders can’t support or endorse specific candidates, they can ensure … Continue reading 5 Ways Philanthropy Can Support The Electoral Process

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Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – A Caution for Board Members

Many quip that once you work for or serve on a foundation board, you never have to pay for lunch and everyone laughs at your jokes. While this observation is amusing, it is true that a very real power dynamic that exists between a foundation and the nonprofit community it serves. Nowhere is this power dynamic more apparent — and more dangerous — than between a board member and his or her community. Being in a position of power means that people are inclined to be more deferential to your opinion, even if they disagree. As a board, you must be your own critical thought partner and examine ideas — especially your own — from every angle. You must also … Continue reading Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – A Caution for Board Members

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Equity is…

  This is a guest post by Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink. Equity is a big, dynamic idea. The field — the universe of people working to create a just, fair society — is blossoming. Reading the provocatively titled blog post, “What the Heck Does Equity Mean?,” by Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell, I was struck by two thoughts. First, I am not surprised they found that a universal definition of equity is elusive. Second, I am not concerned. Rather, I am thrilled to see so many people and organizations embrace the hope of equity and grapple with the complexity of translating that hope into action. I am grateful to see people in philanthropy and beyond search for their … Continue reading Equity is…

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Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

  This is a guest post by Allen Smart, vice president of programs, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. In a New York Times opinion piece earlier this year by Dr. Adam Grant, a Wharton management and psychology professor, Grant put forward the argument that real innovation comes not from endless practice and refinement but from creating a space for children, in this case, “to think for themselves” and to find “joy in work.” Further, Grant writes that adults’ creative contributions depend on “the breadth, not just the depth, of our knowledge and experience.” These concepts also ring true for philanthropy. We are in the midst of what feels like a downward spiral that started with measurement and return on investment; took … Continue reading Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

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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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