Foundations have a unique and important role to play as a convenor. They can provide neutral ground for discussion. They have the social capital to compel attendance. And if all else fails, they usually have the budget for better-than-average meeting food. But I believe that foundations also have a responsibility to use their convening power wisely, and to remember that convening is a tool and not an end in and of itself. Many foundations make the assumption that convening grantees or stakeholders is the best way to gather information and input, or instantly show the foundation’s interest in community engagement, build consensus, or surface parties that may want to work together in new ways. But oftentimes convening isn’t the best … Continue reading To Convene or Not to Convene? 4 ways to make the most of coming together
Last week, we looked at five mistakes that new foundation boards often make, and how to avoid them. Below are five more practices that may get new boards off to a rocky start. Fortunately, they’re all avoidable with a little foresight, planning and honest introspection. Failing to learn The opportunity to expand your knowledge doesn’t stop with what you have to know. Instead, consider all of the aspects of governance, visioning, planning, collaborating, and grantmaking that you could learn because you want to know. If your foundation focuses on a particular interest area, such as education or health or social justice, consider engaging in conferences, trainings, reading, conversations, and consultations with experts to increase your knowledge. In addition, recognize the … Continue reading 10 Mistakes New Foundation Boards Make, and How to Avoid Them (Part 2)
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of things said about philanthropy. Many were spot on. Some were downright brilliant. A few were head scratchers. And then there are the ones that are so ridiculous they almost make you want to throw your hands up and walk away. Some of the statements below came from folks who were relatively new to the field, so perhaps they are somewhat excusable. Others, sadly, were from the lips of veterans who should know better. In any case, comments like the ones that follow make an excellent case for investing in ongoing professional development for our field, especially as more and more players come into it. #1: “Giving away money makes me feel like … Continue reading 5 Ridiculous Things Said About Philanthropy
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in philanthropy-related conferences. Just this year, I’ve either attended or presented at seven of them. Conferences can require a significant investment of time and money on your part. They also can be highly worthwhile or a complete waste of time, depending on your mindset and your plan for making the time spent as productive as possible. Here are seven strategies that will help you get the greatest return on your conference investment. Know who’s there. Most conference registrations will allow you to see who’s coming. Before you go, scan the list to identify any potential partners, people you’d like to network with, folks who can offer a particular kind of … Continue reading 7 Strategies of Highly Effective Conference-Goers
Most philanthropies seek to be strategic and have an impact. Yet few build their own internal capacity to be strategic grantmakers. In particular, most funders forget to intentionally learn from their initial piloting and testing of strategies so that they can make early modifications and course corrections. Learning isn’t hard to do, but it must be intentional, documented, discussed among your team, and lead to decision-making. It can’t simply exist inside a program officer’s head. One of our clients, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, asks themselves “What will make or break this grant?” when deciding whether to recommend a significant grant to their board, so that they are clear on the risks involved and what needs to happen to … Continue reading 13 Questions To Learn From Your Grantmaking
In philanthropy, we are driven by the causes that matter to us and bolstered by the opportunity to generate meaningful change. For years, when I was out in the community or talking with my colleagues about the work of Blue Shield of California Foundation, I would rarely start by describing us as a “policy funder.” Instead, I would say that we aim to strengthen and transform the systems that support the health and safety of California’s most vulnerable populations. As I thought more about our programs and grant making and peeled back the many layers of “systems change,” I uncovered a policy framework upon which so much of our work relies. For us—and most foundations—strong policies are the infrastructure that … Continue reading An Underutilized Tool For Foundations—Policy Change
For several years now, funders have found themselves amid a rising tide of metrics and data. We look to numbers to tell us if we’ve “moved the needle,” “closed the gap” or otherwise made progress. We disaggregate data to better understand the populations we want to serve, and to determine where funding opportunities might lie. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that data is valuable in terms of gauging impact and return on investment. It definitely has it place in a grantmaker’s toolbox. But there are many facts of the human condition that defy a numeric assessment. There are feelings and changes in perception that are all but impossible for data to quantify. These are emotions like hope, caring, courage … Continue reading Telling the Stories of Change
No one likes to feel left out or overlooked, and when key stakeholders feel that way, the results can be painful and long lasting. I recently conducted a focus group of community leaders who expressed serious concerns about the lack of communication within a significant regional initiative. When I asked the group what could be done to fix this, another participant said something I’ll never forget: “Communications need to be top-down, bottom-up, inside out, and all around.” I think that sums up the components of an effective communications plan. The next time you launch a new grantmaking program or initiative for any issue, think through these four aspects of your communication needs so that none of your key stakeholders feels … Continue reading The 4 Dimensions of a Successful Communications Plan
Dropping my twins off at preschool yesterday, I slowed down (along with all the other cars on a 6 lane road) to stop and watch a small gaggle of geese walk slowly across the road. After explaining (unsuccessfully) to my kids that the plural of goose is geese, not gooses, we talked about how interesting it was that the geese chose to walk across the street when they could have flown. What made us all stop and pay attention was that the geese did something unusual, something unexpected. They walked. They did this at some risk to themselves (they could have been hit by a car), but they didn’t seem to care. This year I’ve chosen to stand out from … Continue reading How Can You Stand Out From the Crowd?
If I had a career do-over, I might choose to be a signage expert. I am constantly appalled by poor signage, and occasionally impressed by excellent signage. To me, useful, informative, and strategically placed signs are one way for people to be kind to each other. “We’re thrilled you chose come to Stanford University’s campus, our signs will help you find your way.” “Road closed ahead? Don’t worry, our signs will provide turn by turn directions and explain how we are redirecting you.” Good signs signal “we’re glad to have you,” “we care about you and your experience,” “put your feet up and relax.” Bad signs tell us we aren’t wanted, our experience doesn’t matter, nobody cares. A few days … Continue reading What Message Are You Sending To Grantees?