“We can’t just put a Band-Aid on this. We need to change the system!” How many times have you heard that statement? It’s true. Most of the issues funders address will ultimately benefit greatly by systems change. But how do funders play a role in that change? I define systems change as altering entrenched policies and practices in society. Generally, there are three approaches that funders use to engage in systems change work. I think of them as using lenses, frameworks and movements. 1. Using a systems change lens to drive philanthropic mission at individual foundations As donors and foundations learn and grow, and come to understand why systems change work is important – even critical – for achieving their … Continue reading Three Ways Funders Can Change Systems And Drive Impact
A colleague of mine recently forwarded a query from a funder that was looking to be more innovative in its grantmaking. This funder asked several questions of colleagues, such as: How many grantmaking staff do you have? How many grant cycles do you conduct each year? Do you offer grants for programs? Operations? Capacity building? As I considered this list, I confess I grew a bit frustrated. The person asking the questions was truly interested in being innovative, but the questions were all wrong. They were confined to the realm of what’s “normal” and what’s currently happening, rather than what was possible or wildly different. In addition, he’d only asked other funders, not anyone outside the field. Not surprisingly, the … Continue reading Shouting into the Mouth of a Cave
Are you missing a key chance to change policy? Most foundations know that they can’t lobby directly for a piece of legislation that is being considered by a lawmaking body. But before the legislative process around a new piece of public policy ever begins, foundations can be key players in shaping the landscape for that policy and building knowledge and momentum. On the other side of the legislative process, after a policy passes through legislation and becomes law, some of the harder and longer-term advocacy work begins as new policies are implemented. Here are six ways funders can support policy advocacy before and after the legislative process: 1) Establish a Vision. Foundations can use their convening power to bring together the … Continue reading 6 Ways to Advocate for Policy Change
The human, economic and environmental toll of natural disasters in the last few months has been nothing short of overwhelming. Even if we sit miles away from danger ourselves, the stories and images of those in need call us to act. But the desire to help those in need after natural disasters can quickly lead to a confusion. There are hundreds of worthy agencies where you could potentially make a gift, but how do you know what charitable investment will deliver the greatest impact? My suggestion? Consider a community foundation. Community foundations are essentially philanthropic hubs that provide leadership, stewardship and leverage for a broad range of individual charitable contributions. They supply charitable support to nonprofit organizations, but also build … Continue reading 10 Ways Community Foundations Are A Best-Bet For Disaster Giving
What will you fund, and what will you not fund? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any funder knows how quickly one can be overwhelmed by the complexity. Depending on your mission and capacity, your focus could include broad program areas such as health or education. Or, it might be concentrated in specific areas like increasing access to high-quality early childhood education. In general, there are three potential levels of change that I encourage my clients to explore to determine where they can effect change, based on their capacity: People Organization Fields For the sake of example, let’s assume your interest is in substance abuse treatment. Your funding focus could take one or more of the … Continue reading 3 Potential Levels of Change to Determine Your Funding Focus
Hurricanes and floods on the Gulf Coast. Devastation in Puerto Rico. Raging fires in Northern California. Earthquakes in Mexico. The list of natural disasters seems to be growing at an epic rate, and it’s hard to know where to give to best support relief and recovery efforts. Fortunately, there is no shortage of places that can bridge the gap between those wanting to give and those in need. Well-known charities like the American Red Cross or The Salvation Army do good work and provide immediate relief for those hit by natural disasters. I consider these and others important front-line resources worthy of support. But we all know that disaster relief is the tip of the iceberg. Most communities will face … Continue reading Community Foundations Keep Giving When Disasters Keep Coming
Grantmakers are always looking for impact. We define the quantitative outcomes we want to achieve with our funding. We collect qualitative evidence through stories of those whose lives are changed as a result of our work. But we often forget to look for and capture the “ripple effect” of the grants that we make. Here are two examples: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation recently gave a grant to the Community Foundation of Sonoma County to update its business model. As part of that updating process, the Community Foundation is collecting and curating data about the business models of other community foundations across the country. They will share that information widely with their peers, who are hungry for it. Hence, … Continue reading Looking for Impact? Don’t Overlook the Ripple Effect
1. Don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. All efforts at innovation should be in pursuit of a compelling reason. Further, that compelling reason should align with a foundation’s mission and vision. While funding a new app may sound fun, if the new app doesn’t directly impact an audience or issue you’ve targeted, leave it to someone else. 2. Innovation doesn’t have to be a big deal. Effective innovations can be small but brilliant internal changes. For example, redefining a grant process with the grantee in mind instead of staff. It can also be as simple as an effort to shift perspective and look at your work from the outside in. 3. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Funders who innovate almost … Continue reading Innovation and Philanthropy: It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated!
I am surprised by how often grantmakers see their role as funder, but not as a provider of services for which there are customers. True, the philanthropic customer is different than a business customer. As a foundation, you’re not selling a consumer good, but you are selling ideas, change, and a belief that communities can and should become better. And just as a private business needs customers to buy its products or services to keep its operation going, foundations need customers to buy into their missions and be willing to work as partners to achieve them. Philanthropic customers include the nonprofits you serve, donors (especially if you’re a community foundation), community partners, and even other funders who might align their … Continue reading Take the Customer Service Challenge
The word “innovation” is ubiquitous in philanthropy. It’s a concept that few foundations have defined, yet many are eager to fund. No surprise, then, that foundations often request “innovative ideas” from their grantees but fail to accomplish the same thing internally. When a funder doesn’t create a clear definition of innovation or understanding of how to build its own innovation muscle, the implied assumption is that innovation “just happens.” This creates several problems: Because few funders have defined what they mean by innovation, they have difficulty communicating their expectation to grantseekers. The onus of innovation is almost always on the grantees and rarely on funders themselves. Funders give little to no thought about how they expect grantees to be innovative. … Continue reading What Does Innovation Mean?