Category Archives: leadership

5 Ways Philanthropy Can Support The Electoral Process

No matter what your political leanings, I think we can all agree that this year’s election cycle has been one of the most tense and unpleasant in recent history. It’s enough to turn voters off from voting at all, and we probably all have a colleague, friend or family member somewhere who has announced their intention to skip the polls this year. But even if the choices may be unappealing to some, the act of voting is still important. Voting is a right, but it’s also a responsibility. And for many segments of our nation’s population (women, people of color, immigrants), voting represents the culmination of a hard-fought battle. While funders can’t support or endorse specific candidates, they can ensure … Continue reading 5 Ways Philanthropy Can Support The Electoral Process

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Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – A Caution for Board Members

Many quip that once you work for or serve on a foundation board, you never have to pay for lunch and everyone laughs at your jokes. While this observation is amusing, it is true that a very real power dynamic that exists between a foundation and the nonprofit community it serves. Nowhere is this power dynamic more apparent — and more dangerous — than between a board member and his or her community. Being in a position of power means that people are inclined to be more deferential to your opinion, even if they disagree. As a board, you must be your own critical thought partner and examine ideas — especially your own — from every angle. You must also … Continue reading Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – A Caution for Board Members

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Equity is…

  This is a guest post by Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink. Equity is a big, dynamic idea. The field — the universe of people working to create a just, fair society — is blossoming. Reading the provocatively titled blog post, “What the Heck Does Equity Mean?,” by Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell, I was struck by two thoughts. First, I am not surprised they found that a universal definition of equity is elusive. Second, I am not concerned. Rather, I am thrilled to see so many people and organizations embrace the hope of equity and grapple with the complexity of translating that hope into action. I am grateful to see people in philanthropy and beyond search for their … Continue reading Equity is…

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Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

  This is a guest post by Allen Smart, vice president of programs, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. In a New York Times opinion piece earlier this year by Dr. Adam Grant, a Wharton management and psychology professor, Grant put forward the argument that real innovation comes not from endless practice and refinement but from creating a space for children, in this case, “to think for themselves” and to find “joy in work.” Further, Grant writes that adults’ creative contributions depend on “the breadth, not just the depth, of our knowledge and experience.” These concepts also ring true for philanthropy. We are in the midst of what feels like a downward spiral that started with measurement and return on investment; took … Continue reading Creativity is the Missing Ingredient

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The Art of Streamlining

Much has been written about efforts to “streamline” foundation application processes – reducing the number of hoops applicants must jump through, right-sizing applications to the grant amounts, and asking questions in such a way that the answers are truly useful for funder decision making. But extraordinary grantmakers move beyond streamlining applications and grant reports to reviewing every aspect of their internal operations to identify opportunities to streamline. They audit their operations to find unnecessary blockages, duplication, wasted efforts, and barriers to impact. Why? Consider what the following examples of inefficiency might do reduce productivity or effectiveness: A foundation assigns six different staff members to review and edit a simple four-page case study. A funder requires staff to issue RFPs every … Continue reading The Art of Streamlining

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Strategic, Responsive, or Both?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about funders weighing the options between strategic grantmaking and responsive grantmaking. The general angst seems to come from a sense that all funding must be strategic in order to make a difference. While it’s true that strategic philanthropy (as described below) can lead to broader or deeper outcomes, there is a time and a place for both. Let’s take a look at each: Responsive grantmaking is being open to receiving proposals and ideas from any nonprofit, and allowing the nonprofits to drive the agenda. Requests are initiated by the nonprofit, rather than by a funder seeking them out. This doesn’t mean that a foundation doesn’t have core areas of focus, but that within those … Continue reading Strategic, Responsive, or Both?

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Embrace Abundance!

In my experience, one thing holds philanthropists back from achieving dramatic impact on the issues and causes they care most about: They have a poverty mentality. It might seem like an oxymoron for people with wealth, or professional access to wealth, to experience a form of poverty, but hear me out. A poverty mentality in philanthropy is a belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to efficiency and effectiveness, and that you and/or your staff don’t deserve to invest in your own success. For example: Your executive director spends a significant portion of her time handling basic administrative activities, such as meeting logistics, travel reimbursement, taking minutes, and copyediting board dockets, leaving her less time to focus on strategy, planning, … Continue reading Embrace Abundance!

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Collaboration 101

Foundations often expect nonprofits to collaborate, yet they less frequently turn that expectation on themselves. There is tremendous opportunity to exponentially expand the impact of your grantmaking through funder collaboration. If you’re just getting started in exploring collaboration, or want a refresher, here’s a quick look at the basics: What are the types of funder collaboration? Funder collaboration comes in all shapes and sizes, but in general there are three primary types: Shared learning. Funders come together to learn about latest topics and share experiences in a particular area of interest. Strategic alignment. Funders learn about and support various aspects of a shared agenda, such as a systemic change in a field or laying the groundwork for policy change, but … Continue reading Collaboration 101

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Learning How to Learn

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 within your team, and it must 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. They are clear on the risks involved and what needs to happen … Continue reading Learning How to Learn

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Summer Daydreaming is the Perfect Time to Re-Imagine Philanthropy

School’s out and summer is here! Time to pursue that great American pastime – the lazy summer vacation. Be it at the beach, in the mountains, or somewhere in between, there’s actually a great value in taking time off and letting your mind daydream for a bit. In fact, summer dreaming time is the perfect way to spark what could be a dramatic change in your philanthropy. All you need, really, is your own permission to do so. While you’re miles away from the phone, co-workers, and day-to-day expectations, give yourself time and space to dream a little. Take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to understand that any and all thoughts are welcome – even those that may feel unorthodox. … Continue reading Summer Daydreaming is the Perfect Time to Re-Imagine Philanthropy

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