Hildy Gottlieb's new book, The Pollyanna Principles, draws from her experience as an educator and consultant to address a real challenge for charities and other organizations working in the community—regardless of the quality of work, most efforts don’t realize significant improvement in a community’s quality of life. Check out the first part of a two-part interview we had with her.Read More
A couple of the case studies we’ve read for my philanthropy class come from the book Great Philanthropic Mistakes by Martin Morse Wooster. So far I’ve read chapters discussing the Carnegie Corporation’s involvement in creating public television and the massive blind investment the Rockefeller Foundation made in standardizing medical education. Wooster also tackles the Annenberg Foundation’s role in school reform (we’re reading that chapter next week) and the MacArthur Foundation's Fellows Program. I’m intrigued enough that I may have to go ahead and buy the book for my own collection!
These readings got me to thinking about foundation mistakes--failed programs that sounded fantastic at the start but, through either environmental circumstance (such as PBS’s competition with the new cable channels) or non-acceptance from the target community (like prominent medical schools dismissing the proposed standardization). Only recently in my 6 years of foundation work have I seen public acknowledgement of foundation mistakes. The first was a Grantcraft publication called When Projects Flounder. The second was a discussion this year at my foundation about learning from failed programs. There have been others here and there, but they seem few and far between.
Why have foundations been so hush-hush about failed programs? With all the emphasis foundations put on grantees talking to each other at our annual convenings about lessons learned, you’d think those of us who work in foundations would be more willing to also trade stories of the grantees that didn’t quite meet our expectations. When I work on developing new funding programs, I would love to not only talk to the foundations who succeeded in a similar initiative but also those who failed miserably. Then, just like my grantees who exchange such stories with each other, I can learn from the mistakes that were made.
First of all, let me say that I forgot how much reading is involved in a graduate level class. I saw the syllabus and almost fainted with the amount of reading that must be done on top of what I read for work. But the weekly topics will be very interesting and so I'll try to consider it as "reading for pleasure"...
This week we discussed the regulation of foundations since the Tax Reform Act of 1969. The reading the struck me the most was "The Long Recoil from Regulation" by Peter Frumkin (1998). In it he discusses the results of the regulations imposed on foundations in 1969; of particular interest to me was his discussion of the change in foundations funding innovative, long-term programs and operating support to small, short-term targeted grants that are administratively heavy. When I was writing a paper for a fellowship last year, I read several articles with the same criticism of foundations being more interested in project-specific grants instead of funding general operating support or long-term investments in innovation. The unfortunate result is that nonprofits wind up creating new projects and programs to meet the requirements of the foundation when in fact all they need is money to continue to support their staff salaries or buy a new computer. So they create a new program (or reconfigure an old one) and fold in the operational expenses. It becomes a vicious cycle of grant after grant just to ensure that a key staff member still has a job.
In 2006 the Center for Effective Philanthropy released a report highlighting the need for operational support from nonprofits. In the findings, only 16% of the foundation CEOs surveyed were in favor of grants providing operational support. On the flip side, nonprofits preferred larger, long-term grants that supported their general operating expenses. The foundation I worked at in St. Louis, MO funded operational support and it was our most popular program. It was the one allocation that was completely spent every year. I've felt for a long time that more foundations should support operating expenses. There are many small nonprofits doing phenomenal things but they struggle to keep their doors open. So why not just help them maintain their programs? Why do many foundations essentially force nonprofits to reinvent themselves repeatedly so they can sustain their operations? Certainly there are new programs to be created but if something is going well and the organization is fulfilling its mission then it needs to be sustained, nto made to repackage its efforts for a 1 or 3 year grant.
I'd love to hear from those of you who do support operational expenses in your foundations and what you've heard from your grantees. I'd equally love for those who don't fund operational support to make comments with their thoughts.
This week I'm going back to school. I will be auditing a course that I think will not only help me figure out the higher education conundrum (see my 7/10 post), but will also help me be a better new generation philanthropist by learning its past, present and future. The professor has allowed me to blog on the class, but requested that I not specify the class to maintain its integrity with the students who are taking it. So between this month and December, expect weekly musings and insight about the readings (which are in the public domain) as I progress through the semester. I hope good conversation can occur on this site as we all go forward in our philanthropic and foundation work. ...some foundations, especially large ones, have grander and more aggressive ambitions. They aspire to function as proactive change agents that are instrumental in incubating and creating new institutions, fostering and deploying new knowledge, cultivating and spreading innovative ideas, spawning and ...we will examine: (1) the original and continuing rationale for the existence of foundations; (2) significant examples of this catalytic role achieving its intended purpose; (3) high profile instances where best intentions backfired; and (4) the controversies that can arise when foundations choose sides in ideologically charged debates. The seminar will also concentrate on the spirited criticism that occasionally erupts over whether foundations are sufficiently transparent and accountable for their expenditures and impact; whether they should exist in perpetuity or be required to spend their way out of existence; whether and how they should be held responsible for the dubious actions of grantees; and whether they should be subjected to more rigorous legislative and regulatory strictures and oversight.
And just to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the school's website about the class:
sustaining social movements, informing and shaping public opinion, reforming major institutions and service delivery systems, and impacting public policy.
...some foundations, especially large ones, have grander and more aggressive ambitions. They aspire to function as proactive change agents that are instrumental in incubating and creating new institutions, fostering and deploying new knowledge, cultivating and spreading innovative ideas, spawning and
...we will examine: (1) the original and continuing rationale for the existence of foundations; (2) significant examples of this catalytic role achieving its intended purpose; (3) high profile instances where best intentions backfired; and (4) the controversies that can arise when foundations choose sides in ideologically charged debates. The seminar will also concentrate on the spirited criticism that occasionally erupts over whether foundations are sufficiently transparent and accountable for their expenditures and impact; whether they should exist in perpetuity or be required to spend their way out of existence; whether and how they should be held responsible for the dubious actions of grantees; and whether they should be subjected to more rigorous legislative and regulatory strictures and oversight.
I've been debating lately whether to go back to school for another degree. I don't know if it's a desire to sit in a classroom again, subject myself to large quantities of reading (like I don't do enough of it already through working in philanthropy) or what. Heaven knows I don't miss taking exams. But something inside of me wants to add another set of letters behind my name. And just taking the occassional continuing education class will do; no I must be a graduate of some program from some university.
So what good are the extra letters? Many individuals my age (early 30s) working in philanthropy are simply trying to establish themselves in the field, possibly with eyes towards moving up through the foundation ranks. Current foundation staff with doctorates probably received those degrees before they began working in philanthropy, as it was desired to move ahead in their field or to secure a job in the field they wanted. But what benefit is it in a foundation to secure a second Master's or a doctorate degree? It's not necessarily a sure way to move up in the field.
I tried doing a little research (see? already preparing!) on the educational levels of foundation staff but had a hard time finding any reports or information regarding who has PhDs, Master's, etc. I talked with a co-worker who received his doctorate before coming to the foundation and he simply said "Go for it!"
So maybe I should just follow that advice and go for it. It could be beneficial in the long run, right? Opinions/input are welcome, especially if you know where to find info on foundation staff education levels.