Category Archives: Strategy

Five Ways To Position Your New Foundation For Success

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

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The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

We often look to external sources for best practices, hoping that others have figured out the ideal way to accomplish something and we can simply duplicate it. But when is the last time you searched inside your organization for internal best practices? If the answer is rarely or never, read on! With a little time and intention, you can make dramatic improvements in your operations and grantmaking. Let me give you an easy example. Swimming is a regular part of my week day exercise routine. My pool is lucky to have a wonderful lifeguard named John. Whenever the lanes are full, John helps new swimmers identify a lane and asks the lane’s occupant it he or she would mind sharing. John’s friendly manner always solicits … Continue reading The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

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5 Ways to Prepare for the Unexpected

Unexpected events are a part of philanthropy, in much the same way surprise snows can be a part of spring. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing (and whether or not school is cancelled), that snow can be a blessing or a curse. For funders, unexpected events run the gamut from creating inconvenience to rocking entire worlds. Key staff may leave your team at a critical time. External forces (such as presidential elections, say) can make dramatic shifts in the environment in which your focus your giving. Or, as was the case with one foundation I’ve worked with, government leaders who were valuable partners for your initiative may end up in jail for corruption (completely unrelated to your … Continue reading 5 Ways to Prepare for the Unexpected

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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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Prudent Risk is Wise But Don’t “Bet the Farm”

If you’re familiar with research and development philanthropy, you know that when a foundation decides to invest in R&D, they must be willing to take risks. But not every research opportunity is a good one, and not every innovative idea should be pursued. In considering an R&D investment, assess each opportunity wisely and take risks that are prudent, calculated, and thoroughly explored. Likewise, don’t “bet the farm” on any single piece of research or in developing any individual idea, product, or service. Instead, think of each R&D investment as just one part of a diversified portfolio. There are four criteria that can help foundations assess risk in any R&D investment: 1. Cost. What investment will this require in terms of grants, … Continue reading Prudent Risk is Wise But Don’t “Bet the Farm”

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How We Constrain Ourselves

I fly a good bit for my work. As a seasoned traveler, you’d expect that I’d have strategies and practices I use to make the experience more comfortable and productive. There are other things I do because they are obvious and expected. For example, when in first class, use the first-class bathroom. But recently, as I sat in first class waiting to use the bathroom for more than 10 minutes, it occurred to me that the coach bathroom was identical AND the walk allowed me to stretch my legs. I had constrained myself by sticking to my typical airplane routine and not considering all the options available. Walking back through a half empty plane I was surprised at how many … Continue reading How We Constrain Ourselves

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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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This Year, Make a Point to Think About “The Others”

By all accounts, this year will be one of uncertainty the likes of which we’ve not seen in a while. Everyone is poised to see what a new presidency will bring. Our nation is on edge and some are even on high alert. If anything is certain, it is that change of some sort will come. As funders, we can’t ignore that fact that there are many “others” out there who don’t necessarily understand or agree with our work. The change that will come will no doubt have an impact on what we do. These “others” will have a significant bearing on our effectiveness. It’s understandable that many of us have been focused on serving specific populations, whether defined by … Continue reading This Year, Make a Point to Think About “The Others”

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Making the Case For (Your Own) Support

In my last post, I explained the ways that many individuals in foundations adopt a poverty mentality rather than an abundance mentality when it comes to their own personal activities. Many foundation staff and leaders sell themselves short and eschew the support they need for the sake of not taking precious resources away from others. But in doing so, they often undermine their effectiveness and that of their foundation. Support for your work is important. It allows you to maximize efficiency, gain valuable knowledge, create and leverage partners, explore creative solutions, and thereby promote and further the foundation’s mission. That support could take a number of forms, such as: An administrative support staff person A software upgrade Travel to a … Continue reading Making the Case For (Your Own) Support

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