My favorite raving lunatic

Timothy Ferris has become my favorite lunatic. Tim is the author of the book The 4-Hour Workweek, which is a book about how to escape the 9 to 5 so that you can travel the world and become a national champion in Chinese kick boxing or learn to scuba dive in Hawaii. You might find it a little bit strange that someone who loves philanthropy so much that she stays up late at night and writes a blog about her field would enjoy a book about how to escape the work world. While I do sometimes dream about leaving my overflowing inbox behind so that I can go on safari in Kenya, I am much more interested in his tips for increasing your effectiveness by focusing on the essential. Tim talks about how your work expands to fill the amount of time that you have to complete it. I got to live this lesson recently when my son got the flu and I was out of the office for 3 days. When I returned I had a full inbox and a pile of work to do. Somehow 3 days worth of work was completed in an afternoon.

Focusing on the important lets you spend time doing the parts of your job that you love, ignoring the parts that are unnecessary (do you really need to get a CNN update every half an hour?), and having more time with the people and things that you care about outside of the work world. Viva la work-balance!

Be Present

I had the opportunity to listen to a very eye opening presentation by Cynthia Rivera Weissblum, President and CEO of the Edwin Gould Foundation recently at a leadership summit. She made a great point about the importance of being present to become a successful leader. There are always a million tasks to do and lots of internal and external "chatter" that are a distraction from what is truly important. When you can distance yourself from that "organizational noise", you can become a thought leader that can see the forest through the trees and can add value to your organization. She described a coupling of a love for the greater good and a desire to be operationally sound as the ideal combination for a successful leader. Here are other pieces of advice from Cynthia:

  • If you have defined the end game of your position as "doing everything", you have already lost the battle.
  • When you are trying to create organizational efficiencies, collect data to show that there is a better way to do things. Data + Humility=Success.
  • Don't fear change, that fear is just a reminder that you need to look at the issue from multiple angles.
  • Bring consensus by learning to bring the best thinking of an entire group together.

How to be your Program Officer's BFF

New Voices of Philanthropy is participating in this month’s giving carnival hosted by Arlene Spencer's Seeking Grant Money Today blog. The topic this month is “ Are relationships everything in Philanthropy, today?” Since I’m writing from the foundation perspective, my opinion is that it isn’t everything, but it is the most important thing. Fabulous program ideas will get you far, but a good relationship with your program officer will help move that idea forward.

A positive relationship with your program officer is hard to come by and even harder to maintain. This difficulty has nothing to do with your stunning personality or their interest in getting to know you and your organization better, it is just a byproduct of the great number of relationships that they have to maintain. Developing this relationship is important because your program officer needs to be your interpreter and advocate throughout the entire grantmaking process. These tips may not have you and your program officer braiding each others’ hair and you still may not be in their cell phone’s five favorite people but it will help make the grant process more civilized.

1) Turn in your application at least one month before the stated deadline. There is nothing that builds a good grantmaking relationship quite like an early application. Early applications give a program officer time to fully read and analyze the proposal and call with any follow-up that may be needed to make a good decision about the fit of this proposal into the foundation’s guidelines. Grant application that comes in five minutes before the deadline don’t get that personal touch. Do everyone a favor and make a fake grant calendar for yourself that gets applications in early enough to start a dialogue with the funder.
2) Don’t stretch the limits of creativity. Great grantwriters can make any program fit within the guidelines of a foundation. Fundraising for a humane society and the foundation you are prospecting only supports healthy family development? Dogs are like part of the family! Fundraising for a junior high band trip to Germany and the foundation only supports mental health programming? Vacations are the best medicine and have you ever met a junior high student that wouldn’t benefit from a little bit of therapy? This kind of creative writing only wastes valuable time that could be used cultivating a relationship with a funder that is a better fit.
3) Be honest. When asked about weaknesses in programming or audit numbers that don’t add up, be honest. Foundations don’t expect your organization to be perfect but they do want you to be able to identify and work on weaknesses. By pretending that those weaknesses don’t exist, you create a feeling of mistrust that is hard to overcome.
4) Ask for feedback on unsuccessful proposals. Getting a “no” is hard but by being dedicated to continuing a relationship you learn important things that may strengthen your next application to that foundation. Maybe your proposal was denied because they wanted to see a partnership with a local school district or maybe it was denied because they no longer fund youth development. You might also find out that the “no” was because they had run out of money for this fiscal year but if you reapplied in two months, your proposal would be a good fit.

What other tips would you give to grantseekers to develop a positive relationship with their PO?

Everything I needed to know about being a program officer, I learned in Kindergarten

Adapted from "All I really need to know I learned from Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum.

These are the things I've learned:

  • Share everything- Share your successes and mistakes with others from the field, it makes us all better grantmakers.
  • Play fair- Don't use the unequal power dynamics with grantees to your advantage, treat people fairly and even the playing field.
  • Say sorry when you have hurt somebody- Give grantees an explaination when they have gone through your complicated grantmaking process and still receive a no for their funding request, people deserve to know why and it's your job to tell them honestly and kindly.
  • Live a balanced life- learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some- Take time to really enjoy the community that you life in, not just as a funder but as a citizen too.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that- sometimes the best programs can't be explained with a logic model, be open to the wonder of that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the styrofoam cup- they all die. So do we- Leave a legacy by the quality of work that you do in the community.

What other lessons did you learn in kindergarten that are applicable to the work that you do today?

Advice from another new voice

Tidy Sum left a comment on the article that I wrote a while back on Advice for those new to the foundation field. His or her advice was so spot on that I thought I would share it with the rest of the readers.

  • Tune in to Foundation Power Hour. Learn about foundation and nonprofit governance and learn to sketch out the power dynamics among staff and the board.
  • Find out where the bucks stop. Learn about the financial side of the field. Ask where the money comes from and how it is invested. It may intrigue you or it may make you barf.
  • Enjoy wildlife. Get a field guide to spotting sacred cows in the field. Then shoot them.
  • Moisturize. Buy some lotion cause you will need thick skin to survive.
  • Listen up. Talk for 10 percent of the time and listen for 90% of the time. We all talk to much.
  • Holla back. Defy expectations. Return your damn phone calls and emails to applicants.
  • Celebrate and laugh once in awhile. You get to meet some of the smartest people who are changing the world. You lucky dawg.