We all talk about big data, evaluation, dashboards and bench marks. But we tend to collect a lot of data and then end up unsure about what to do with it. Most of the time, it’s just 20% of the data that provide us with 80% of the information we need to make better decisions. Let me share a recent example of what I mean. I walked into the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto CA one morning for coffee. As I was drinking it, I heard the front desk clerk answer the phone, say “Yes, 72% and 395…you’re welcome,” and then hang up. I asked her what the numbers were for. She explained the hotel is at 72% capacity … Continue reading What Are Your Two Key Indicators?
Let me start this post by saying that data is not a bad thing. It informs our decisions much more accurately than our guts, and it keeps us honest in terms of outcomes. Both of those functions keep philanthropy moving forward in effective ways. But too much data can also grind your effectiveness to a halt. Let me explain. I’ve facilitated several strategic planning sessions where my clients have begun with a request for data. Together, we’ve determined which data points will be necessary for informing their strategic decisions, and I’ve mobilized the Putnam team to help collect and analyze it. We present our findings and recommendations. There is enough there to inform the planning process and move forward. This … Continue reading Death By a Thousand Data Points
“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
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
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
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”
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
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
When you think about your work in philanthropy, are you selling yourself short? If so, you could be shortchanging your foundation’s effectiveness – and therefore its mission – as well. Some of the most sincere people I know in philanthropy bring a very astute sense of servant leadership to their work. They always put the needs of others first and keep themselves humbly out of the spotlight. It’s an admirable mindset, but it also can be a symptom of approaching philanthropy from a poverty mentality rather than one of abundance. As I’ve written before, foundations with a poverty mentality believe that investing in their own infrastructure or capacity somehow robs those they serve. Foundations with an abundance mentality realize that … Continue reading Are You Selling Yourself Short?
Contrary to what one might assume from the phrase, having an “abundance mentality” has nothing to do with money. Instead, it has everything to do with your foundation’s beliefs, organizational culture, and how it approaches its work. At its core, an abundance mentality is based in a belief that almost anything is possible. David conquered Goliath, and you can help conquer just about anything if you’re willing to step forward and make an effort and an investment. No doubt you’ve seen both individuals and organizations that embrace an abundance mentality, and those who are trapped in a mentality of poverty. The abundance mentality includes the belief that the answers are out there, if we only are willing to invest in … Continue reading Embracing a Mindset of Abundance