“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
We all talk about big data, evaluation, dashboards and bench marks. But we tend to collect a lot of data and then end up unsure about what to do with it. Most of the time, it’s just 20% of the data that provide us with 80% of the information we need to make better decisions. Let me share a recent example of what I mean. I walked into the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto CA one morning for coffee. As I was drinking it, I heard the front desk clerk answer the phone, say “Yes, 72% and 395…you’re welcome,” and then hang up. I asked her what the numbers were for. She explained the hotel is at 72% capacity … Continue reading What Are Your Two Key Indicators?
Billionaire Jeff Bezos’s recent Tweet for suggestions about how to give some of his fortune away has inspired several media stories, including commentary and an open letter to Jeff Bezos about focusing on immediate suffering vs. creating a long-term strategy. Where, how and in what a philanthropist chooses to invest his or her philanthropic capital are all extremely important decisions. For someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, like Bezos, those decisions will no doubt reflect some new and different thinking. For the field of philanthropy, where many giving practices are deeply entrenched and sometimes outdated, “new and different” can be a very good thing. But no matter where, how or for how long Bezos chooses to be charitable, and no matter whether his philanthropy is wildly unconventional … Continue reading Five Things Jeff Bezos Needs To Know Before Giving Away Billions
Hint: The answer is yes. By now you probably know two things about me: I travel frequently, and I’m addicted to good coffee – especially first thing in the morning. So you can understand my delight to find a high-quality coffee service right on my hotel floor this morning! This was no in-room filter pack situation. To me, that’s like offering stale saltines to an artisan baker. I pass that up unless I’m completely desperate. But I also am reluctant to make myself presentable first thing upon waking just to go down multiple floors to a hotel lobby or a Starbuck’s to get the good stuff. On most trips, I actually bring a single-cup coffee maker with me on my … Continue reading Can You Improve Just a Smidgen?
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
You’re about to start on a new philanthropic adventure with a brand-new foundation. Perhaps it’s a family foundation that you’ve just created. Perhaps you’re taking the reins of a new corporate philanthropy. Or maybe you’re part of an exciting transition of assets from the sale of a public hospital into a new foundation. Whatever the circumstances, there are five key questions you can ask yourself now that will set your foundation on a successful course. 1. Is a foundation the best charitable-giving vehicle for us? Individuals who have created great wealth often want to establish foundations as a way to extend the family legacy into philanthropic endeavors. It is natural to want one’s name to live on and be honored with … Continue reading Five Ways To Position Your New Foundation For Success
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
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I was delighted to find a Starbucks right next door to my hotel. For a moment, I felt sort of guilty that I was being an imperialist coffee drinker and that I should go find an amazing Mexican coffee experience to try. But a quick gut check proved the opposite: I was jet lagged from an ill-advised red eye flight from San Francisco, and my priority was caffeine in the form of coffee that I could depend on. I like Starbucks’ Pikes Place blend and I needed the comfort and reliability of its consistent quality. A few weeks later, I was walking in Palo Alto to — you guessed it — a Starbucks. I walked … Continue reading Why Consistent Quality is Key to Your Philanthropic Relationships
Call ‘em what you want – in my 18 years advising foundations and philanthropists I’ve seen the terms “regional association of grantmakers,” “funder networks,” “affinity groups,” “philanthropy communities,” and more – and now the new term is “philanthropy-serving organization” (PSO). Whatever you call it, the value is timeless – bringing funders of similar interests, types, sizes, and/or geographic locations together to network and learn from each other. In my work advising foundation CEOs, I’ve noticed that as leaders transition to new roles and move to new organizations, and as foundation priorities and grantmaking strategies evolve, many funders fail to take advantage of – and sometimes fail to even notice – PSOs that might meet their evolving needs. For example: Consider … Continue reading There’s a Philanthropy-Serving Organization for That!
This article was originally written for and published by Philanthropy New York. The original post can be read here. Funders, for the most part, want to do the right thing and operate with the best of intentions. But within those good intentions, funders too often suffer from what I call “delusional altruismSM.” Delusional altruism is when funders inadvertently get in their own way, or make life more challenging for their grantees and partners – and in doing so, prevent themselves from making the greatest impact. In the worst cases, they can do even more damage than good. Delusional altruism usually manifests itself in seemingly benign ways, such as making a grant application and approval process too cumbersome, taking three weeks to … Continue reading Three Ways Funders Delude Themselves About Equity