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?
A philanthropy consultant should live and breathe the principles of giving back. Let’s make no mistake about it: philanthropy advisors and consultants are in business to make a living. They provide a service that delivers value to their clients in exchange for compensation. Good philanthropy consultants leave no doubt in the minds of their clients that their services are worth the investment. But I believe that philanthropy consultants also should live and breathe the principles of giving back with their own generosity and philanthropy. I’m not only talking about consultants who make their own charitable gifts. I’m talking about those who go the extra mile to contribute deeply to the causes in which they specialize or to the field … Continue reading How Generous are Your Consultants?
As some of you may have noticed, I recently was inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame by my own mentor and advisor, Alan Weiss, Ph.D. This honor was especially gratifying – not because of the fanfare but because, just like most people, I like to know that the work I’ve put into something (in this case, my consulting practice) has paid off. Over the last decade, I’ve invested hours of my time and a good amount of my own money in my personal professional development, striving to become the most effective and valuable philanthropy advisor I can be. I’ve learned one-on-one from top global consultants, improved my consulting practice by honing in on key strengths and opportunities, … Continue reading From Well Done to What’s Next
In my first attempt to hire my own financial advisor in my late 20s, I turned to Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. I interviewed two people. One had a slide show presentation and overflowing binders of charts and graphs showing me how they informed his decisions, his track record, how this and that outperformed that and the other. I had little idea as to what he was talking about but I figured he must have known his stuff because he could prove it on an XY axis. The second person, a woman, looked at me straight in the eye and said “This is not all that complicated.” I was shocked. How could it not be complicated? I didn’t understand it. … Continue reading Don’t Believe the “Complexifiers”
You’ve landed your new job. Your vision is big, and so is your to-do list. You’ve got to deliver, and quick. Luckily for you, they’ve already hired a consultant to help you. Right? Maybe not. A good consultant is a trusted advisor with the experience and expertise to help you accomplish your goals. In many cases, they can help you unpack your real needs, understand your true objectives, and work with you to determine and the best solutions. The person your predecessor hired might or might not fit the bill. Let me tell you a story about this scenario going well and then share examples of what can go wrong. A few years ago, the Cleveland Foundation hired me to … Continue reading Inherited Consultants: Blessing or Burden?
When meeting with potential new clients, I am occasionally struck by their “what can you do for me?” or “how much do you charge for an evaluation?” approach to hiring consultants. There is a fundamental flaw in this line of questioning that can doom a foundation-consultant relationship from the start. The approach is backwards, because those foundations are essentially scanning for an expertise that they may be able to use, or assuming a one-size fits all approach, rather than thinking about what they really need. If you have a program or initiative or planning project that feels incomplete or not quite what it should be, it’s tempting to look around for off-the shelf answers. And there are many pre-packaged consulting … Continue reading Beware the Off-The-Shelf Consultant
If your “to-do” list includes “increase the impact of our giving” read on! Below are five grantmaking mistakes you should avoid. 1) Jumping on the latest philanthropy craze. Every year a new set of tools and ideas emerge that become the hot trends (think infographics, collective impact, Ice Bucket Challenge, crowd funding, social media) and grantmakers feel compelled to try them out. I had a grantmaker recently tell me that her foundation decided they “need to do crowd funding” and therefore the new initiative she wanted me to help her design “must include crowd funding” but she wasn’t even sure what that meant. Crowd funding can be a great tool, depending upon what you are trying to accomplish. But this foundation … Continue reading 5 Grantmaking Mistakes to Avoid
I’m a stepparent and a stepchild. Apparently I am not alone. A staggering 42% of U.S. adults have a steprelationship–either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild. This translates to 95.5 million adults and doesn’t include all the stepkids under 18. This number is probably actually larger, when you count all the boyfriends, girlfriends, and fiancés of people with kids, plus those kids themselves. Essentially, there’s a whole bunch of adults and children wondering, “Who is this person, why are they in my life, and what am I supposed to do with them?” Here are four stepparenting lessons I’ve learned that apply to philanthropy and consulting: 1. You have all the responsibility and zero authority. As a stepparent you might … Continue reading 4 Stepparenting Lessons for Grantmakers
This blog was originally written as a guest post for GlassPockets, a blog of the Foundation Center. When funders want to know about a particular issue or have questions about process, they often look first to peers and industry associations for answers. That makes perfect sense—the people who do the same job you do are likely to understand where you’re coming from and have experienced something similar. But if funders stop there, they could be selling themselves short. There are also many people who have expertise on the very issue, process, challenge or innovation that a grantmaker is pondering, but are not employed by a foundation or an industry association. These “knowledgeable outsiders” can have a great deal of valuable … Continue reading Increase Transparency by Broadening Your Perspective
I believe foundations could save time, solve problems more efficiently, and add greater value if their senior leadership would think like consultants. Let me explain: Most consultants work on a time-and-materials basis, meaning that they have an hourly rate. Foundation leaders who hire those consultants deem the value of their work worth that fee. However, foundation leaders rarely calculate the cost and value of their own staff’s time — which is a pretty simple thing to do. Let’s say the annual salary of a senior program officer at your foundation is $100,000. Let’s assume her annual benefits are 25 percent, so now you are at $125,000. There are 2,080 working hours per year, so if you divide $125,000 by 2,080 … Continue reading Grantmakers Should Think Like Consultants