Engage more deeply in learning about the issues you address and the places you serve. Effective grantmaking rarely happens if grantmakers spend all their time behind their desks. Solving intractable problems requires that funders have a true understanding of the issue, a range of partners to join in the work and an ability to continually learn from collective actions and apply that learning to ongoing efforts. None of these three things is possible if funders don’t get out of their offices and into their communities, face-to-face, on a regular basis. Here are four reasons for grantmakers to leave the office and break out of the bubble: 1. You learn more than if you’d stayed in the office. Imagine a program officer … Continue reading Leave The Office And Break Out Of Your Bubble
Being more strategic doesn’t have to be complex. The term “strategic philanthropy” is everywhere these days. That’s not surprising, since most funders are looking for ways to increase their impact. Being more strategic can be a complex undertaking — and like every complex undertaking, shifting toward strategic grantmaking comes with multiple pitfalls and opportunities to make mistakes. That’s okay. Mistakes can provide valuable information for ongoing learning, which is a key part of strategic grantmaking. Acknowledging and acting on them only serves to make your efforts stronger. That said, there are some common pitfalls that any foundation can avoid with a little forethought: 1. Not asking “why”. There is a tendency when discussing new ideas for philanthropy to rush headlong into … Continue reading Five Mistakes to Avoid When Pursuing Strategic Grantmaking
Get rid of vague terms and confusing philanthropy jargon forever. In my line of work, I pick up a lot of interesting stories from the front lines of the foundation world. Some are inspiring, some heart-wrenching, and others downright funny. This one made me want to both laugh and cry simultaneously. A foundation leader told me that he and his staff were fed up with the amount of philanthro-speak that appeared in foundation documents — especially in the foundation’s grant guidelines. Vague terms like “innovative,” “equity,” “empowerment,” “disruption,” “intersectionality,” “sustainability,” “collective impact,” “best practices,” and “systemic,” were rife within the guidelines document. Grantees, confounded by the language, attempted to make up for their lack of clarity by peppering those same … Continue reading Are You Driving Your Staff (and Grantees) to Drink?
Prepare for a year of greater philanthropic impact! As philanthropic organizations, we’re hopefully starting a new year with a renewed commitment to do good for others. It’s at the root of every philanthropic mission, after all. And, as philanthropies, we all try to make decisions that are in service to our missions, represent good stewardship, and result in the greatest impact. But sometimes, in making those very decisions, we unintentionally do more to damage our impact than to further it. I call this Delusional Altruism®, and I’ve seen it manifest itself in many ways. For example: When funders penny pinch on their own infrastructure or professional development in the name of getting more money out the door to grantees, … Continue reading Three Ways to Keep Delusional Altruism from Undermining Your Philanthropy in 2018
Philanthropy is supposed to feel great. But what if it doesn’t? As the holiday season approaches, many of us are reminded frequently that this is supposed to be a time of joy. Sometimes it’s easy to be thankful and happy about theblessings in our lives — especially if we work in philanthropy! But sometimes the joy gets squeezed right out of us with deadlines, overflowing inboxes, people we don’t like to spend time with (whether they are grantees, co-workers or foundation trustees), frantic year-end meetings that never result in action and much more. When we lose the joy that should come with giving, it shows. We have less energy and enthusiasm to share with our team. Our creativity suffers, as do our relationships with grantees and partners. I believe … Continue reading Where’s The Joy?
Sometimes it’s better to hop off the treadmill. My colleague and friend Ann Latham is a pro at creating effective meetings. One of her secrets is to ensure that everyone is always moving forward toward an identified goal. No wheel-spinning allowed! So when I read her recent post about “treadmill verbs” and how they bog down meetings, I immediately drew a parallel to philanthropy. Treadmill verbs describe those actions that can bog us down and keep us from moving forward – all in the name of doing good work. You’ll doubtless recognize words like learn, review, study, and plan. “Destination verbs,” on the other hand, are words that describe forward movement and accomplishment. Think of words like approve, decide, confirm. … Continue reading The Danger of Treadmill Verbs
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?
In the face of a rapidly changing policy environment that appears to sometimes question the values most philanthropists espouse (you know, things like justice, compassion, and honesty), it’s understandable if funders feel panicked, deflated, enraged, or all three simultaneously. Those are the emotions that many of my clients, from a full spectrum of political leanings, are sharing as they call me for advice on how to respond to the dramatic changes that are taking place our country. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, when everything seems to be in a state of upheaval (whether it’s federal policy or your own institutional politics) it pays to stop, take a deep breath, and stay focused on your mission. Here are 10 points to … Continue reading Keep Calm and Carry On (With Your Mission)
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”
As I’ve often said, there are some stories of waste and counterproductivity in the foundation world that I simply couldn’t make up if I tried. This is one of those stories. Read it and see how many incidents of pointless bureaucracy and time-sucking processes you can find, then see if my list (below) matches yours. I recently was asked by a senior manager at a large foundation to submit a proposal. Time was of the essence, since the foundation’s annual budget year was about to end and this project needed to come in as part of the current budget. The senior manager’s assistant sent me a link to the foundation’s online portal to submit my proposal, which I did promptly. … Continue reading Bureaucratic Time-Suckers in Philanthropy