Tag Archives: foundation

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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Innovation is for Everyone

“Innovation” is one of those terms with many connotations, so it’s important to consider what you mean when you use it in your philanthropy. If you don’t have a clear definition, it leaves the onus to define and deliver innovation completely up to others, or it implies that innovation is something that “just happens.” Further, lack of clear definition has come to imply that innovation must be a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development. Funders give little or no thought to how they expect grantees to be innovative – they certainly don’t help provide technical assistance or capacity support to help achieve innovation. And while everyone wants to … Continue reading Innovation is for Everyone

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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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Keep Calm and Carry On (With Your Mission)

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)

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Guest Blog- Starting with Quality: A Decision Point for Summer

By Justina Acevedo-Cross, Program Officer, & Jeff Sunshine, Program Officer, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation For just a moment, pretend you’re a public health official and you’re faced with stopping a new pandemic. You have a vaccine that mitigates the disease in one dose and completely cures it in two, but only enough to fully treat half the population. Do you treat everyone halfway or completely cure only half? This catch-22 situation also faces funders who want to see a good idea expand quickly. Do you roll out the basics of a successful program or idea as far and fast as you can to maximize access, knowing that you’ll sacrifice quality in the process? Or do you take your time and … Continue reading Guest Blog- Starting with Quality: A Decision Point for Summer

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Equity Resources for Foundations

  My philanthropy advisory firm has been pursuing, studying and documenting equity within philanthropy. In this important step toward philanthropic progress, we are working on developing and discovering what equity means to funders, foundations and organizations, both individually and across the field. The following list is a variety of resources which we have found helpful in our ongoing study of equity, including many that we have authored! I shared them last week at my presentation on “Exploring Equity” to the Colorado Association of Funders, and wanted to make them available to you as well. Articles: The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity (full article)* The Road to Achieving Equity: … Continue reading Equity Resources for Foundations

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5 Ways Foundations Cause More Problems Than They Solve

It’s the nature of philanthropy to want to help. It’s what foundations were created to do. Yet all too often, foundations, corporate grantmakers, and donors unintentionally cause problems instead of helping to solve them. Even with the best intentions, foundations take actions that are counter to the outcome they – and their grantees – hope to achieve. Here are five common examples: 1.     Providing short term funding for a long-term outcome. Most funders are loathe to commit to any one organization or initiative for more than a year or two. (In fact, if foundations were people, we’d call many of them commitment-phobes and recommend therapy!) Even when foundations have long-term goals like closing achievement gaps in schools or improving drinking … Continue reading 5 Ways Foundations Cause More Problems Than They Solve

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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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