Do your grants last longer than a McDonald's hamburger?

Working in the field of childhood obesity, I've recently been learning a lot about the slow food movement and talking to advocates addressing hunger and access to healthy foods.  One such advocate recently sent me a link to a blog posting where the author saved a McDonald's hamburger for 12 years and it looked pretty much the same from day one.   During the same time of reconsidering whether I will ever eat another McDonald's hamburger, my foundation (like many others) is being confronted with reductions to both our administrative and our grant making budgets.  My team just completed re-prioritizing our current and future grant making plans which included looking a lot more closely at sustainability.  How long will a program last after our immediate grant ends?  I've also been reflecting on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report "Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best".  It had been on my reading list for a couple of months now and I finally got around to at least reading select chapters.  One that particularly caught my attention was the "Effectiveness" criterion.  I have been a proponent for operational grants for quite some time because, when done right, they can lead to strengthening the sustainability of an organization.  I also support multi-year grants but with the stipulation that the funder and organization work together to ensure that, if the program is effective, it can continue operating after the grant ends.  I was a little disappointed that the report didn't touch upon sustainability as part of grant making effectiveness.  To me, the two should go hand-in-hand; if a foundation is willing to make the commitment to a 3-4 year grant, then the grantee should have a sustainability plan ready for when that grant ends.  And I'm not just talking financial but also sustainable impact on the community being served, such as through grant making for policy change.

So, does your grant leave the grantee ready to continue its good work when your funding ends or is the organization scrambling for more funding a year before the grant's over?  Will the impact of the funded activity last beyond the foundation's financial commitment?  Do your grants last longer than a McDonald's hamburger?

PS: Click here if you're curious about the 12-year old hamburger.  I haven't eaten one since...

Do More than Be Glad: The Pollyana Principles Author, Hildy Gottlieb

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.

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A Great Foundation

A legend at my foundation passed last week.  I'm not sure how well Terrence Keenan is known outside of the health foundation world, but his amazing work in philanthropy became the basis of an award created in his name at Grantmakers in Health.  He worked in philanthropy for 40 years and though his focus and committment was to the health and health care of Americans, his leadership in philanthropy spans all areas in the field.  Last week I wrote about what makes a perfect 21st Century foundation.  Here are Mr. Keenan's thoughts on what makes a great foundation altogether:  

 A great foundation is informed and animated by moral purpose.

 A great foundation accepts responsibility and stewardship for pursuing these purposes.

 A great foundation walks humbly with its grantees—it acknowledges that their success is the instrument of its own success.

 A great foundation is deliberate. It is guided by judgment. It acts where there is a need to act. It takes necessary risks—and proceeds in the face of great odds.

 A great foundation is a resource for both discovery and change. It invests not only in the identification of answers, but also in the pursuit of solutions.

 A great foundation is accountable. It functions as a public trust—and places its learning and experience in the public domain.

 Finally, a great foundation is self-renewing. It adheres to a constant process of self-reflection and self-assessment. It knows when it needs to change and to adopt measures to improve its performance.

More about Mr. Keenan's philosophy on health philanthropy can be found at:

Make Better Mistakes

Tagging onto Trista's post on philanthropy's New Year's resolutions, I'm posting an entry from Tactical Philanthropy about making better mistakes. As you know I am a big fan of learning from mistakes and don't think philanthropy does enough 'looking back' to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. I agree with Sean on 2 points: 1) I too have a stack of books on philanthropy that still need to be read and 2) even though philantrhopy is over 100 years old, we still have a lot to learn. From Sean's post:

The field of philanthropy is a bit like an uncharted wilderness. Unlike most 100+ year old fields, there is no real set of “best practices” in philanthropy. There is no agreed upon way to evaluate a charity. Most donors have never even heard of some of the basic tools of giving like charitable trusts and donor advised funds.
Recently I’ve been discussing with a pretty esteemed group of philanthropic leaders what “strategic philanthropy” even means and how we can tell if someone is practicing it.
As a field we still have an aversion to admitting that philanthropy ever fails at anything. But as everyone knows, admitting a problem is the first step to fixing it.
Personally, I’m still in the thick of learning about philanthropy. I have a large stack of books about philanthropy next to my desk that I have yet to read and another large stack of those I have. But with One-Click ordering from Amazon, it seems that my “To Read” pile grows faster than I can keep up.
So let’s be ambitious and work hard to build a new and better philanthropy. But let’s also be humble and realize that we all have so much to learn. Philanthropy as a field of practice is still in its infancy. So rather than resolve that next year we will do more, do better, do faster. Let us humbly resolve that in 2009 we will make better mistakes than we did in 2008. Let’s make mistakes that are the result of daring, well informed risks. Mistakes that demonstrate our willingness to embrace the unknown and try things that other people tell us can’t be done. Let’s make mistakes that we can be proud of, the kind of mistakes that we brag about over a beer with friends, “Remember that time when we….?!”
And who knows. Maybe we’ll all create something wonderful.

2009 Resolutions for Foundations

Here are the 5 things I would like to see foundations do in 2009:

Unrestrict grants that you have already given to nonprofits for project-specific activities so that they are able to make mission driven choices about their activities in 2009. Too many nonprofits can't make good decisions about what programs to keep, expand, or scale back during tough economic times because they have specific funding tied to those programs. Unrestrict those grants to make sure that organizations can focus on core programs.

Use 5% as a guideline, not a rule. When times are tough be there for the organizations that you financially support, even if it means that you are spending over 5%. Foundations do not exists to make sure that they continue to exists. Their donors got a tax break to have a positive impact on our communities.

Collaborate with other foundations to achieve impact. This is not a time for us to go at this alone. Turf battles are so 2008, so find some foundations with a common vision and figure out how you can coordinate your funding for maximum impact.

Think about your non-financial resources that would be useful to your nonprofit partners. Things like lobbyists, communications expertise, space, or information. Find new ways to get these resources to nonprofits.

Release your staff from the 9 to 5. I've never been a fan of arbitrary time schedules that don't match employee or community needs. Now is the time to figure out how to realign your foundation to measure results and not just hours clocked.

They say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. As a new foundation head, I'm working on implementing all of these ideas in my foundation. It isn't easy, but it's necessary.

What other things would you like to see foundations implement in 2009?

A Reminder of Why I Do It

My husband works for Habitat for Humanity in Newark, NJ. We'd both heard a lot of negative things about Newark but through his interest in real estate and his work at HH, he has witnessed the extreme dearth of development and lack of hope among many residents in this city. There was even a shooting right in his building but thankfully no one was killed.

But in early December, we both were present at an event that reminded me of why I love philanthropy and why I am committed to it. We participated in the dedication of houses for two local families right around the corner from the HH office. These families worked with Habitat and many volunteers for long hours to complete these houses that they recieved keys for that day. It was probably 30 degrees outside but a large crowd gathered to support the families and cheer them on as they cut the ribbon at the front doors. Afterward we congregated in a local church, eating food and singing Christmas carols. I got a chance to meet a few volunteers, talk to one of the families and just share in the excitement of a new chapter in the lives of these community members.

Were it not for philanthropy these houses would not have been built. And I'm not just talking about the money and corporate sponsorships. I'm also talking about the philanthropy of time--the hours and days committed through volunteerism to build these houses and work with the families. One of my favorite things about philanthropy is seeing the final "product" of the dollars and time given. The smiles on the families' faces just made my day and I recommitted myself to both my professional and personal work in philanthropy.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Let's ignore effectiveness (just for today)

Image courtesy of the Star Tribune

A few days ago an apartment building near my house burned down. It was one of those tragic stories that makes you hold your family a little bit closer and count your blessings. As a nonprofit geek, it also made me think about the current financial state of the Red Cross and hope that they would be able to provide services to the 64 families left homeless by the fire just days before Christmas.  Then something completely unexpected happened, an anonymous donor gave $1,000,000 to the victims of the fire. No strings attached and with the insistence that the money be disbursed immediately, so that the families would have it before Christmas. The generosity brought tears to my eyes because all I have been hearing for the last few months is how bad the economy is and that nonprofits  and the people that we serve will be left out in the cold. This donor's generosity reminded me that giving is a basic human instinct and we will continue to support each other, especially during hard times. 

It can be argued that, especially in these tough times, there are better ways to use that money. The donor could have leveraged it as a challenge grant to get more funds to the Red Cross, they could have offered to pay two months of rent for each family (and spared the families from the tax burden and other financial implications of a cash gift), they could have started a public information campaign about the need for sprinkler systems in older apartments or the benefits of renters insurance, or they could have build more affordable housing to replace the building that was lost. They could have done a lot of things but they helped in the way that they thought would be the fastest way to meet the needs of these families. As a professional philanthropist, I often get caught up in the how of the giving. This donor reminded me that the why is even more important because that is where our humanity is.

Desparate Times..., pt. 2

As a follow-up to my post last week, I wanted to alert folks to an upcoming webinar that I just learned about. The Taprood Foundation is hosting "When Hand-Wringing Isn't Enough: Proactive Approaches Funders Can Use When the Economy is Upside-Down". The webinar will be held on Wednesaday, Nov. 19 at 1-2:30pm EST (10-11:30am PST). And best of all, it's FREE!
Here's the description:

Join us for a web-based roundtable discussion as leaders from the philanthropic community share approaches funders can use to ensure their grantees continue to provide critical services while weathering the impact of the current economic crisis. You will hear the findings of recent research identifying the trends and issues facing nonprofits, as well as how foundations are planning to respond. Speakers include:
Patrick Corvington, Program Officer, Leadership Development, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Kathleen Enright, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
Jeanne Bell, Executive Director, CompassPoint

Moderated by Matt O'Grady, Vice President, the Taproot Foundation
This seminar will provide valuable and actionable insight into: the critical needs of nonprofits during the economic recession; approaches to funding that stretch the impact of each dollar; the promotion of effective and responsible nonprofit responses to the crisis. Space is limited. Register now to reserve your place at the seminar.

You can register at

Desperate times call for creative measures

Every day we're reading and seeing news reports about our country's financial crisis and how it is affecting the average American. What we don't hear about as often is how this crisis is affecting the average non-profit. Lately I've been reading article after article about how the bank closures are affecting the local non-profits that depend on them for large contributions to the annual fundraisers. Non-profits that depend on annual support from corporations and individuals are hearing "we can't do it this year" more often than ever. Scaled back giving of course means scaled back programming, which leads to more people being left out of some very important activities provided by their local charity organization.

In times like this, creative philanthropy is necessary. When I was in Missouri my foundation had an emergency fund for unexpected situations that might lead to an organization having to close its doors. When a tornado demolished a town in southern Missouri, grants were made from the emergency fund to rebuild the health department. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we established a fund to assist organizations experiencing an influx of victims transported out of Louisiana.

I just read an article about the Silicon Valley Community Foundation establishing the "Strengthen the Safety Net" fund to assist non profits that provide food and shelter in the San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. These organizations are seeing a dramatic rise in families needing their services due to the economic crisis. As a result the foundation is using this fund to challenge individuals and corporations to donate money; the foundation will match dollar for dollar up to $1 million through the end of this year. Now that's creative philanthropy in a time of crisis.

I certainly understand that some foundations are getting hit by the crisis just like the nonprofits, but there are others whose losses may be minimal and thus can afford to pitch in a little extra. I'd be interested to hear other creative solutions that your foundations (or foundations you've read about) may be instituting to respond to these desperate times.

Green Charities

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had an interesting online discussion about charities going green. The discussion was a follow up to a Chronicle article on the same topic. The discussion summary is below:

Many charities are getting serious about taking steps to become more environmentally friendly in their operations -- to both protect the planet and save money.

Some are taking steps to reduce waste in their operations and cut down on their energy use. Others are taking more aggressive steps by undertaking "green" building projects.

For many groups, such moves dovetail with their social agendas -- and have the added benefit of building good will with grant makers and other donors. What approaches can charities take to become more environmentally friendly? What are the costs of these efforts and how can your charity get access to funding? How should they publicize them to donors and the public? What should they consider before adopting "green" policies?

The Guests

Cynthia L. Bailie is the director of the Foundation Center's Cleveland office and of the organization's special online initiatives. Ms. Bailie has held leadership positions in libraries and nonprofit organizations since 1991 and serves on the boards of directors for Greater Cleveland Community Shares, the greater Cleveland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the Village Foundation, a community foundation in Bay Village, Ohio.

Sarah S. Brophy is a consultant who helps museums, historic houses, and other cultural institutions in New England and the Mid-Atlantic become environmentally and financially sustainable through grants and green performance. She is co-author of the book The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice.

Kimberly Austin is a program associate at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. As part of her role, Ms. Austin is involved in Grants to Green, a new program that provides environmentally focused knowledge and financing to nonprofit groups in metro Atlanta. The program is a collaboration between the Community Foundation, Southface, and Enterprise Community Partners.

What are some best practices that you have seen for charities going green? What role should foundations plan to encourage a more environmentally friendly social sector?

Charity is for the Dogs

The New York Times (free subscription required)

By Stephanie Strom


Sure, the hotelier and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley left $12 million in her will to her dog, Trouble. But that, it turns out, is nothing much compared with what other dogs may receive from the charitable trust of Mrs. Helmsley, who died last August.

Her instructions, specified in a two-page “mission statement,” are that the entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs, according to two people who have seen the document and who described it on condition of anonymity.

It is by no means clear, however, that all the money will go to dogs. Another provision of the mission statement says Mrs. Helmsley’s trustees may use their discretion in distributing the money, and some lawyers say the statement may not mean much anyway, given that its directions were not incorporated into Mrs. Helmsley’s will or the trust documents.

Even if the resulting total is at the low end of the estimate — $5 billion or so — the trust will be worth almost 10 times the combined assets of all 7,381 animal-related nonprofit groups reporting to the Internal Revenue Service in 2005. Read the rest here.

So what responsibility do her foundation trustees have to making sure that the money is spent effectively? What about donor intent? Should all of the money really go to the care of dogs, even if the amount of the gift dwarfs the nonprofit sector's ability to utilize it?

Philanthropy 2.0

I'm blogging live from the philathropy 2.0 event sponsored by the Case Foundation, EPIP, and 3rd Wave. Packed, hot, techie. About to break a sweat hot.

Just a quick observation. In today's session on faith and feminism, the director of the Women's Funding Network, Chris, pushed me to present my small group's discussion points. Although the rest of the group urged her to speak, she clearly indicated that she wanted me to present because I am an emerging voice in the feminist movement.

This is not the only time this has happened. Today, in the session I co-designed, Luz gave way to Charles and Trista to allow them airtime. This level of collegiality and respect for the voices of young people in philanthropy is new to me. Just by creating it as a focus area of the summit and by hearing leadership frame the conference on Sunday, people are already taking action.

We are not just here to learn, existing leadership is not just here to teach. It is an exchange.

From comments to front page news

There was a comment in the last posting on Has philanthropy grown comfortable with mediocrity that I wanted to bring forward as a post because I think the author Mary has some very valid points.

I wonder if community solutions (like your examples of after school programs, or
prison-to-community reentry programs) are seemingly less attainable because
foundations in a community don't talk to each other, come up with common goals,
and strategize about how to attain those goals. Furthermore, the folks who would
create these programs often don't have the training to do effective PR, media
outreach, and development, along with launching a project. If nonprofit managers
don't know how to do outreach, and can't talk to grant makers- is it reasonable
to assume that a program can be created ? I know that community foundations and
regional grant making organizations are supposed to foster these
meetings/conversations (both amongst each other and with nonprofits) - but I'm
not sure they really are. Perhaps, like the COF Summit is meant to bring
together different types of grant makers for conversation and collaboration,
regional grant makers need to encourage an agenda and a common set of goals
(along with the appropriate government forces)similar to the millennium goals
set by the UN? So I guess the question now becomes - how do we foster effective
communication in order to set a clear set of needs within a community- and get
grant makers to buy-in to that agenda? Should encouraging regional grant making
umbrella organizations to promote these conversations and a unified agenda be a
priority emphasized in the national philanthropy community? I can't help but
think this will be a forum that will have to be approached from the younger
folks involved in the philanthropic community- as it is a fundamental paradigm
shift from the way grant making is approached now.

What do you think? Could millennium goals for the foundation sector work? How can we all get on the same page for a greater impact?

Has philanthropy grown comfortable with mediocrity?

I was just reading an interesting article in Forbes about the philanthropy of billionaires and this quote from the article hit me over the head like a ton of grant proposals:

It's worth remembering that no philanthropist has solved a worldwide problem since Carnegie brought universal access for the poor to books via libraries (1883-1929), and Rockefeller used his billions to fund the research that would lead to the eradication of polio (1952).

Gates' ambition is on a similar scale. He wants to eradicate the 20 leading diseases in the world during his (or his wife's) lifetime.

I am excited about Gates' vision and I think he has the right pieces in place to accomplish that vision (lots of money, staff experts, and a results oriented funding model) but I am very concerned that his is one of the few foundations that has such a bold vision and a plan to accomplish it. Many foundations either lack the nerve to announce that they will solve a problem, these foundations use statements like "helping people in poverty" or "reducing disparities" or the foundations that have a vision like "ending homelessness" do not have the scale or partners needed to actually make that happen.

My question for you is why is it that the professionalization of philanthropy and the growth in wealth in the "developed" world has not led to a true global solution since polio?

Philanthropy News

I have been filling my in-box with interesting philanthropy articles that I want to cover on this blog. This glut of interesting philanthropy articles is moving me farther and farther away from my goal of having an empty in-box so I thought it was time to clean house. Here it goes:

The Columbus Dispatch has a great article about a new project of the Columbus Foundation that will bring individual donors and nonprofits together.

The New York Times criticized the influence of the Gates Foundation on malaria research. I think this article is interesting because most foundations are criticized for having too little impact on world issues.

Strategic Philanthropists in Australia are covered in Business Spectator.

OnPhilanthropy questions the ability of Gen X and Y to step up and take over the reins of the nonprofit sector.

Climate Change and Mission Related Investments are covered by

The Poor Give More to Charity can be found here.

When nonprofits and their funders break up with One Laptop per Child as the example is at the Financial Times.

Phew, I feel lighter already. Happy reading and let me know if you have had success cleaning our your email clutter.

Orphan elephants and nagging parents

I have two young children and sometimes I worry that by working as a "professional giver" I will desensitize them to the needs of the world. Hearing your parent go on and on about nonprofit effectiveness is probably not how budding social activists are created, so this article from Slate was very much welcomed.

Pennies for Elephants

How to raise budding philanthropists.

Illustration by Nina Frenkel. Click image to expand.

On most Saturday mornings, I take my son Simon to Tot Shabbat at our synagogue. After the kids march around with stuffed red and blue Torah, they sing. One of my favorite songs is about tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of healing the earth. Upstanding morals, catchy tune—all good. Except that there is one verse that has bothered me. It goes like this: "So give your time/ and give your penny/ lend a hand/ to help someone."

Give your time and lend a hand. Check. But give your penny? Was the lesson that a penny, which Simon at age 4 already knows has practically no worth, is all that you need to part with in order to fulfill your charitable responsibilities? Was the whole thing just a little too pat?

As I mulled over this without broaching my doubt with Simon (who was staging a revolt against Tot Shabbat and didn't need any encouragement), my older son, Eli, came home from school and told us that his second-grade class was raising money to adopt an orphaned elephant. Her name was Dida. She had fallen down a well in Kenya. To which I confess my first reaction was: an orphaned elephant? What about an orphaned child? They have a lot of those in Kenya. Not to mention in Washington, D.C., a lot closer to home. Read the rest here.

I'd love to hear your tips for raising young philanthropists and I'd also like to know what you thought of the orphan elephant stuck in a well?

Visionary Leadership with Bill Strickland

" The only problem with poor people is that they are poor."
-Bill Strickland

I was excited, but not surprised when I saw one of my favorite people in the world as a featured speaker on TED Talks. Bill Strickland is the kind of visionary leader that I think all of us strive to be but the amazing thing about him is that his vision is so basic that it makes it seem downright crazy. Bill believes that by treating people with respect and kindness anyone can achieve great things. This means that by filling your community center with fresh flowers and gourmet food you will be able to teach an illiterate single mother how to be a pharmacy technician. It sounds crazy but he has done this and so much more for many, many years. I had the great privilege of visiting the Manchester Craftsman Guild (his nonprofit) during a Council on Foundations conference in Pittsburgh. I believe that visiting his center has changed the way that I approach program officer work and has made me encourage my grantees to reach so much higher than I ever would have in the past. Please take a half an hour to view his TED Talk, I promise it will be the most useful half an hour that you spend all week.

Social Venture Philanthropy

Great video on how venture philanthropy can help society deal with some of society's hardest issues. Also an interesting case study on how foundations can use YouTube to generate support for the work that they are doing in the community.