There was a time not too long ago when you rarely heard the word “foundation” and “risk” in the same sentence…or paragraph…or entire document. Risk simply hasn’t been something formally and broadly associated with philanthropy over the past few decades. However, it’s become pretty obvious to many people that the traditional ways of grantmaking are not enough to make a dent in the entrenched and intertwined social challenges of poverty, inequity, education or healthcare. Yes, one can’t blame philanthropy alone and other sectors very much bear their share of responsibility and obligation. But philanthropy can afford to take some risks that other sectors can’t. The concept of philanthropic risk isn’t new; there have always been some foundations that are willing … Continue reading 3 Ways Foundations Squash Risk-Taking
The philanthropic sector has seen steady growth over the past decade, and while some new foundation boards may be made up of veteran philanthropists, I’ll wager that many of those entrusted are taking on the job for the first time. It’s a big responsibility, and many of the early choices made by a new board can determine whether the new foundation will move forward smoothly and effectively or become mired in a culture or in policies that stifle effectiveness. I was recently invited to speak with a new health legacy foundation board and shared with them 10 mistakes that new foundation boards often make, and how to avoid them. Here are the first five (I’ll cover the other five next … Continue reading 10 Mistakes New Foundation Boards Make, and How to Avoid Them (Part 1)
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?
It’s a new year filled with new opportunities for philanthropy. Now if we could all just get a handle on what they are and how to take advantage of them! There are many things unfolding in our world that will have an impact on our work this year, this decade and beyond. I’m not big on making predictions, but I do like to keep my eyes and ears open and track new developments carefully. That’s why I’m watching three trends this year that I think are especially relevant for my work and for the field of philanthropy. Trend #1 – Fragmentation of information. If you’ve not watched or read this fascinating conversation between NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo and Knight Foundation … Continue reading 3 Trends I’m Watching in 2016
In 2002, Patrick Lencioni wrote a book called, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It explains the interpersonal aspects of teambuilding in a professional setting and how they undermine success. Although Lencioni’s team is in a fictional company, his lessons also are entirely relevant to grantmakers. Here’s my take on how Lencioni’s five dysfunctions can affect philanthropy. Dysfunction #1 – Absence of trust. Lencioni describes this as the unwillingness of team members to be vulnerable to the rest of the group. This is completely understandable and a deeply rooted component of human nature. It’s hard to admit weakness to your teammates when everyone shares a drive for success. But grantmakers take this dysfunction to a new level when it comes … Continue reading The 5 Dysfunctions of Philanthropy
Foundation CEOs carry a huge responsibility. They are charged with achieving mission, but doing so in a way that is as cost-effective as possible. Naturally, they depend heavily on their senior program staff to make sure these things happen – but in doing so they often end up making both mission effectiveness and cost effectiveness all but impossible to achieve. Here are five reasons why: Ridiculous Board Dockets – A foundation program officer once told me she aged two years preparing for each board meeting because of the excessive length and complexity of the board docket. I’ve advocated for shorter dockets before (see Stop the Board Docket Madness) and I’ll do it again. Providing every iota of detail on every … Continue reading 5 Ways Foundation CEOs Stress Their Program Executives (and How to Fix It)
I recently had breakfast with an old friend who is nearing the end of a five-month sabbatical from her job as a nonprofit executive director. It has been time well spent. She’s taken advantage of being away from a very stressful, time-consuming and labor-intensive job to relax, explore her creative side with writing and painting, spend quality time with her husband, and help her children with some key school-based transitions. She looks rested and says she feels great. She’s ready to go back to work…sort of. What’s making her pause? The realization that if she doesn’t change, nothing else will either. Her way of approaching her work is like many nonprofit and foundations leaders I know. She cares passionately about … Continue reading Want to Change Your Organization? Start with Yourself
Years ago, my father owned a company that made a business of storing information on microfiche. (Remember microfiche?) As the computer age dawned, he was definitely an early adopter and enthusiast in our home. He was swept up in the latest and greatest developments and it seemed as if he read everything published about computers and computing. He was caught up in all the chatter and noise about this new industry, but the irony is, he missed the one true signal he needed to hear: computers would revolutionize the information storage industry. If he had paid attention to the signal instead of the noise, perhaps his company would have been an industry leader today. But instead, he missed the opportunity … Continue reading What is Signal and What is Noise?
Site visits are a very valuable tool for funders, because they give you first-hand insight into the places and personalities that will put your charitable investments to work. In-person visits are always best, because they allow you to tour facilities, see programs in action, and observe grantees at work. However, sometimes a grantee can be hundreds – or even thousands – of miles from your foundation office, and getting to their location might be more than your schedule or budget may allow. In that case, consider conducting a virtual site visit. A virtual site visit uses web-based audio and visual connections to facilitate a face-to-face interaction with grantees or grantseekers. They are particularly helpful if your grant awards team (or … Continue reading Short on Time and Money? Consider a Virtual Site Visit
It’s back-to-school time across most of the country, and my colleagues and I have all been trading stories of the build up to that first big day. Whether it’s pre-K or high school, there’s always something special about starting out on a new year. New clothes, fresh supplies, seeing old friends and making new ones — all of these things combine to create that magical sense of anticipation, excitement and butterflies that makes the moment memorable and can provide a positive launching pad for the entire year-long experience. I’ve also found that same sense of excitement and anticipation in my work with funders who are launching a new initiative or an entirely new philanthropy. There is the same sense of … Continue reading 5 Back-to-School Lessons for Philanthropists