6 Questions to Regularly Ask Yourself and Your Partners 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 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 … Continue reading Are You Really Learning and Improving?
Engage more deeply in learning about the issues you address and the places you serve. Effective grantmaking rarely happens if grantmakers spend all their time behind their desks. Solving intractable problems requires that funders have a true understanding of the issue, a range of partners to join in the work and an ability to continually learn from collective actions and apply that learning to ongoing efforts. None of these three things is possible if funders don’t get out of their offices and into their communities, face-to-face, on a regular basis. Here are four reasons for grantmakers to leave the office and break out of the bubble: 1. You learn more than if you’d stayed in the office. Imagine a program officer … Continue reading Leave The Office And Break Out Of Your Bubble
Being more strategic doesn’t have to be complex. The term “strategic philanthropy” is everywhere these days. That’s not surprising, since most funders are looking for ways to increase their impact. Being more strategic can be a complex undertaking — and like every complex undertaking, shifting toward strategic grantmaking comes with multiple pitfalls and opportunities to make mistakes. That’s okay. Mistakes can provide valuable information for ongoing learning, which is a key part of strategic grantmaking. Acknowledging and acting on them only serves to make your efforts stronger. That said, there are some common pitfalls that any foundation can avoid with a little forethought: 1. Not asking “why”. There is a tendency when discussing new ideas for philanthropy to rush headlong into … Continue reading Five Mistakes to Avoid When Pursuing Strategic Grantmaking
A simple lesson can start a child on a lifetime of philanthropy. Philanthropy is an instinctive impulse. Watch a roomful of toddlers, and you’ll see how even very young children naturally are concerned about other children who are upset. Part of this is human nature, and part of it is nurture. The early lessons we teach our children about caring for others, including through our gifts of time and money, are lessons they carry with them always. One of the simplest ways I know to invest in your child’s philanthropic spirit is by using three empty jars. Starting as early as preschool for some children, but definitely by elementary school, begin the practice of preserving a little money to share … Continue reading Teach Giving With Three Empty Jars
Get rid of vague terms and confusing philanthropy jargon forever. In my line of work, I pick up a lot of interesting stories from the front lines of the foundation world. Some are inspiring, some heart-wrenching, and others downright funny. This one made me want to both laugh and cry simultaneously. A foundation leader told me that he and his staff were fed up with the amount of philanthro-speak that appeared in foundation documents — especially in the foundation’s grant guidelines. Vague terms like “innovative,” “equity,” “empowerment,” “disruption,” “intersectionality,” “sustainability,” “collective impact,” “best practices,” and “systemic,” were rife within the guidelines document. Grantees, confounded by the language, attempted to make up for their lack of clarity by peppering those same … Continue reading Are You Driving Your Staff (and Grantees) to Drink?
Do the math and plan ahead for success. Spring is definitely in the air! Last year I shared some very popular advice among funders at the start of the summer. The response was so great, I would love to share it again to prepare for the upcoming months. In between client engagements, I’m getting busy with finalizing summer plans – projects around the house, family vacations, camps for the kids – and I know that many of my clients and colleagues are busy doing the same. If this year is like many others before it, we’ll dive into hectic summer schedules and breathe a sigh of relief in September as we wave our children back to school. Then we’ll take … Continue reading How To Fend Off Post-Summer Panic Before It Even Starts
Here are five ways to elevate your outcomes and impact to extraordinary levels. I love to read about best practices — within and outside the field of philanthropy — and to gather examples from my work with foundations. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from thinking about ways that things done well can be replicated, scaled or embraced to positive effect. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize five best practices that “ordinary” grantmakers have adopted to elevate their outcomes and impact to extraordinary levels. Here’s what these extraordinary grantmakers can teach us: 1. Create a culture of innovation. Extraordinary funders cultivate conditions necessary to support innovation in organizations, and they follow a four-step process to help that innovation … Continue reading 5 Best Practices of Extraordinary Grantmakers
How to create stronger champions who will commit to change for the long term. You probably know the feeling. You’ve attended a dynamic conference, read a groundbreaking book, or had an inspiring conversation with a colleague. You know that if you could just get your boss or your board to act on this newfound knowledge, you could make some real changes that result in measurable improvement—either within your own processes or out in the communities you serve. But you also may know another feeling: You’ve talked about your new ideas to higher-ups and are met with either a shrug of the shoulders or a direct “no.” Talk about deflating! There are ways to help ensure that decision makers are … Continue reading Creating Champions for Change From Within
The news is filled with heart wrenching stories of violence against youth and by youth in America. Although rates of youth violence have actually decreased in recent years, the only acceptable rate is zero. Fortunately, there are many people and organizations across the country who are doing something about youth violence, diligently working to overcome their own grief, rise above the despair, make a difference and break the cycle. One of those organizations is one of my former clients, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, founded by two amazing men, Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix. Khamisa and Felix are working together toward a brighter future and a better tomorrow. Their story begins in tragedy, but it is far from over. On a … Continue reading Azim Khamisa’s TED Talk: What comes after tragedy?
Test your readiness with the following checklist. Incorporating a strategic approach to grantmaking isn’t something foundations can or should do overnight. Developing a strategy involves learning, planning, testing and cultivating support within the community. When, how, and how much to invest in a strategic approach are decisions that foundation leadership must weigh carefully. Moving into strategic philanthropy can be intimidating. There are many steps to take, questions to ask, and options to consider. But don’t let the challenge lead to paralysis. If you’re thinking of developing a strategic grantmaking approach, use the following checklist to test your readiness. Do any of these statements reflect your current situation? You are frustrated by a lack of understanding of your foundation’s impact. You … Continue reading Are You Ready to be Strategic?