The Path to Effective Philanthropy: Honest Conversations

February 27, 2014

It was a treat this week for MCF and our members to host a conversation with Phil Buchanan, president of the The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).

Our exchange was energetic, provocative, fun and sometimes funny.  I was struck by how often we circled back to core concepts and philanthropic fundamentals.

The discussion aligned serendipitously with MCF’s Principles for Grantmakers.  Here are a few snippets that illustrate the challenges — and opportunities — of putting principles into practice.

Effective Governance
According to MCF’s Effective Governance Principle, grantmakers are expected to be good stewards of assets, to fulfill donor intent, to make sound decisions and to perform all fiduciary responsibilities.

Buchanan called for foundation boards to govern effectively by not rubber stamping staff members’ grant recommendations.  “If the board is approving every grant, they’re not taking time to see what it all adds up to and they’re not asking the hard questions.”

And he challenged foundation CEOs to practice “radical openness” with their boards – i.e., to say everything they’re thinking and to spark “messy conversations.”  Good governance doesn’t emerge from perfectly scripted board meetings at which “the most spontaneous thing that happens is when someone gets up to get a cup of coffee.”  (Yes, it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.)

Engaged Learning
The MCF Engaged Learning Principle calls for continuous learning and reflection by engaging board members, staff, grantees and donors in thoughtful dialogue and education.

Of course, learning and continuous improvement through performance assessment is at the heart of CEP’s mission.  (Buchanan readily acknowledged that he is not the expert in philanthropy . . . and he cautioned us to be wary of those who say they are.)

Because philanthropy is “wicked tough,” funding programs on theory alone is not enough.  It’s vital that grantmakers establish performance indicators and are data driven.

And they sometimes need to follow, not lead.  By replicating proven programs, foundations can learn from others and succeed.  (For more on shared goals, read Buchanan’s opinion piece in this week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

Through MCF’s Transparency Principle grantmakers strive to build healthy relationships with the public, applicants, grantees and donors by using clear, consistent and timely communications.

Being transparent includes sharing the so-called “failures.” (Our host Kate Wolford of The McKnight Foundation noted that we might be more apt to learn from our missteps by reframing them in more positive, multi-dimensional terms.)

Buchanan reported that it’s up to foundations to share the results of CEP assessments.  Some don’t share at all, some partially share with grantees (and sometimes add a positive spin!), and some share widely, warts and all.

He noted that foundations that are truly transparent are viewed as trustworthy and credible.  For example, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is fully committed to evaluation and transparency, making it all the stronger.

Cynics may say that foundations don’t need to be accountable to anybody.  But as Buchanan reminded everyone, if grantmakers aren’t honest and don’t cultivate positive relationships with their grantees, how can they obtain the candid information they need to improve philanthropy . . . and improve lives?

More to Come
Keep watching our Philanthropy Potluck Blog for future postings about philanthropic effectiveness, including video conversations with MCF President Trista Harris, Buchanan and other big thinkers.

Like our grantmaker members, MCF is committed to hosting robust conversations within and across sectors . . . because leadership for the 21st century requires honest, provocative discussion.

– Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services

MCF Elects New Board Officers, Directors

January 16, 2014

Cupid the penguin greeted guests at MCF’s Annual Meeting at Como Zoo

The Minnesota Council on Foundations elected new board officers and directors at its annual meeting on January 15.

Officers elected for 2014 are:

  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO, Northwest Area Foundation, board chair;
  • Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation, vice chair;
  • Mark Hiemenz, partner relations officer, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, secretary; and
  • Brad Kruse, program director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, treasurer.

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2016 are:

  • Susan Bass Roberts, director of community relations, Best Buy Foundation;
  • Kim Borton, director of programs, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota;
  • Chris Fulton, executive director, Grand Rapids Community Foundation;
  • Jim Garness, senior foundation representative, Xcel Energy Foundation;
  • Daniel Lemm, trustee, Tiwahe Foundation; and
  • Mary Jane Melendez, associate director, General Mills Foundation.
Susan Bass
Kim Borton
Chris Fulton
Jim Garness
Phillip Lemm
Mary Jane Melendez

Elected to a second three-year term ending in 2016 was Kim Embretson, vice president of fund development, West Central Initiative.

Congratulations to all!

Dearth of Data About Philanthropy’s Diversity

May 22, 2013

sow13_th2The D5 coalition, on a mission to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity and inclusion, just released the State of the Work 2013 report, which examines the diversity in today’s philanthropic sector.

D5 defines diversity as those who bring a unique perspective or life experience to the decision-making table, but focusing particularly on:

  • Racial and ethnic groups: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas, African-Americans and other blacks, and American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • LGBT populations
  • People with disabilities
  • Women

Foundation Data Before Grantee Data
According to the D5 report, while a growing number of foundations are asking grantees for data on diversity, equity and inclusion, very few foundations are tracking that same data in their own organizations. As a result, sector-wide data aren’t available to answer the question of how much diversity exists in philanthropy today.

D5 is calling for greater transparency – from foundations that already have diversity data and from a greater number of foundations overall  to collect and report on their diversity.

I support the goal of sector-wide data collection and transparency on diversity. I believe that data will better inform our planning and implementation of work toward greater inclusion.

Do You See Diversity When You Look Around?
I also believe that, if we use our eyes, we can surmise how much diversity exists in philanthropy, data or no data.  For example, if we were to attend board meetings or CEO convenings of foundations in our region, we could see how much diversity exists at the decision-making levels in philanthropy.  From there, we can work to understand how that diversity — or lack thereof — influences foundation priorities and grantmaking.

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  I believe this to be true in philanthropy, too.  We would do well to assess first our own organizations for diversity, equity and inclusion.

If we take this initial step of raising our organizational self-awareness, we will not only begin to gather the data we need to measure the sector’s movement toward greater inclusion.  We will also have a starting place from which to endeavor to meet the goal of a more inclusive philanthropic sector.

– Lissa Jones, MCF director of diversity, equity and inclusion

MCF Elects New Board Members, Officers

January 17, 2013

Board Chair Kevin Walker at MCF’s annual meeting.

MCF elected new board officers and directors at its annual meeting on January 15.

Officers elected for 2013 are:

  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation, board chair;
  • Carolyn Roby, vice president, Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota, vice chair;
  • Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation, secretary; and
  • Brad Kruse, program director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, treasurer.

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2015 are:

  • Kathleen Annette, president and CEO, Blandin Foundation;
  • JoAnn Birkholz, foundation manager, Medica Foundation;
  • Mike Newman, VP and director of community relations, Travelers Foundation; and
  • June Noronha, senior manager, Bush Foundation.

In addition, at MCF’s last board meeting in 2012, Susan Bass Roberts, community relations director, Best Buy, was elected to fill a one-year vacancy in the class of 2013.

Directors elected to second three-year terms ending in 2015 are:

  • Julie Hara, executive director, Marbrook Foundation;
  • Steve Joul, president, Central Minnesota Community Foundation;
  • Tim Ober, president, Mardag Foundation.

Welcome to our new board members and officers as they gear up to help lead MCF forward in 2013 and beyond!

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Building Your Career Through Authentic Leadership

August 17, 2012

One of the services MCF offers to grantmakers is supporting peer learning networks, including the Minnesota chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP). Sarah Townsend Morris, EPIP-Minnesota member and recent Indiana University MPA graduate, joins us today to share insights from this network’s recent conversations.

Last Friday, a group of emerging leaders in philanthropy discussed Chapter 5 – “Practice Authentic Leadership” from Trista Harris and Rosetta Thurman’s How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar. Here are a few key ideas we pulled from the book to talk about what authentic leadership looks like to us.

Nonprofit Rockstar Tip: Do Your Job and Do It Well

Do you make yourself a valuable employee with a strong positive reputation? At the bare minimum, you must do your job well to be considered for growth opportunities. Two points from the book we considered most important:

  • Know your job description. Be sure your job description matches the tasks you actually are doing. You need to be evaluated against an accurate description of your work, and you should get credit for all of the extra work you may have taken on.
  • Know your boss’s priorities and make them yours. If you align your work with your boss’s goals, you make your boss look good and you make yourself a valuable member of her team.

Benefits: personal and organizational growth, a sense of clarity about where you fit with the strategic plan, personal satisfaction in your job, sense of alignment and priorities for your tasks, opportunity to earn your boss’s favor and respect

Strategies: schedule a regular performance review or conversation with superiors, be clear about your career plans and goals, ask for opportunities to grow your skills, ask questions (“be a sponge”), pay attention to and learn your boss’s management style and personality

Challenges: You may have to take charge. Don’t wait for your boss to start this conversation.

Nonprofit Rockstar Tip: Join a Nonprofit Board

Volunteering for another organization’s board of directors will give you leadership, learning, and networking opportunities within your field but outside of your organization.

You may be asking yourself But, why would an organization want me on its board, and how would I even find the openings? Here are a few ideas and resources we brainstormed:

  • Check out MAP for Nonprofits board training and matching service.
  • Join a leadership or networking group. Learn about opportunities for engagement from Minnesota Rising, Pollen, or a plethora of other groups in the Twin Cities.
  • Contact organizations to get to know them. Ask about site visits, conversations with executive staff, and/or volunteer opportunities to see if there is a “fit.”
  • Learn about the organization’s board. Is it a working or governing board? Do they want younger board members or do they recruit more seasoned professionals? If you are not a match for their board needs, learn about committee opportunities.
  • Be sure you know your employer’s conflict of interest policy. This is especially important for grantmakers or fundraisers! Many board roles come with fundraising expectations, which may conflict with your job.

If you’re an emerging professional in the philanthropic community, consider connecting with the budding and welcoming members of EPIP-Minnesota. We’ll be covering further chapters of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar in the coming months.

How Does a Small Family Foundation Encourage Equity?

July 25, 2012

The family behind the John Larsen Foundation

Following the direction of its new strategic plan, LEADERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE | 2012-2014, last week MCF hosted the first of three 2012 programs focused around diversity, inclusion and equity.

“Bold Steps Toward Funding Equity” featured three MCF-member foundations sharing behind-the-scenes looks at their decisions to focus resources on equity issues confronting girls, seniors and youth, and the LGBT community.

In this post, I’ll cover how the John Larsen Foundation, a small non-staffed family foundation, decided to increase funding around equity and inclusion by increasing funding to LGBT issues — especially the fight against Minnesota’s marriage amendment, on the ballot this November.

Addressing Equity
John E. Larsen, foundation president, sits on the board with three other trustees — his father, mother and sister. So, as he put it, “There’s no diversity there.” However, the foundation had previously looked for ways to engage diversity.

Several years ago, the foundation developed a Certificate of Non-Discrimination that now must be completed by all entities that receive money from the foundation, from vendors to grantees to associations.

Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment
Larsen is engaged in the fight for LGBT rights and is a founder of Project 515 and MN United for All Families. He says, “LGBT rights is also something my family values, but it may not be their top priority.”

So, before the board met to make its annual grants — typically 30 grants of $10,000 each — he knew he had to educate his family and “set the stage” for increased funding to the area he felt so passionate about. He met with his mom, dad and sister individually, expressing his desire to increase funding for LGBT rights and why he believed it was important.

Then at the board meeting, John started the discussion more broadly, with talk of how to best react to major community happenings. They discussed how they had altered past funding choices in light of community needs, including the housing crisis and credit crunch.

And then they asked what made sense now in light of the upcoming marriage amendment vote. They settled on a four-pronged approach to ensure more money for LGBT rights this year:

  • They would take a percentage off all grants made.
  • They would completely remove some nonprofits from their list.
  • They would increase personal giving to issues important to each of them.
  • They would increase multi-year giving to some organizations.

Although Larsen doesn’t believe funding issues like LGBT rights is the “third rail of funding,” he does acknowledge, “It’s a tricky dance. Especially with current grantees whose grants may be getting smaller or ending.”

Larsen says, “Each time something happens in the community, the foundation’s board gets more flexible about using more of its resources to address current issues.”

Stay tuned for a future post on Northland Foundation’s AGE to age collaboration, and check out last week’s post on the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and their MN Girls Are Not for Sale campaign.

Minnesota grantmakers won’t want to miss the next two programs in the series: Funding in Immigrant and Refugee Populations on September 19 and Funding Through a Racial Equity Lens on November 7.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

We’re a Family: How Can We Be Diverse?

April 20, 2012

During discussions of diversity in philanthropy, family grantmakers sometimes get frustrated. Their thoughts may immediately turn to: “Our board members are family, how can we be diverse?”

No matter your family’s DNA or your foundation’s charter, it is possible (and desirable) to diversify the demographic make-up of your governance structure. But beyond that, your family foundation can embrace diversity and inclusion in virtually all other areas of your work, too.

During last week’s National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) teleconference entitled “Diverse Voices in Family Giving,” panelists shared some excellent, first-hand examples of diversity in action. Judy Belk, senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, moderated the discussion with:

Diversity Within and Beyond the Family
Families grow and change not only with births, but also with marriages. When Kimberly Myers married into the Hewlett family, she joined an already diverse Flora Family Foundation board. The Flora’s may have started out looking like a typical White family, said Myers, but when family members brought their partners into the board room, culturally rich international and multi-racial perspectives were brought to the table.

But even if family members don’t become more diverse, foundation boards can deliberately choose to add non-family voices to the governance mix. Vic De Luca described how the daughters and granddaughters of the founder of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation deliberately expanded the board in the mid-1980s. The goal was not so much about increasing racial and ethnic diversity but about including varied viewpoints and life experiences.

Of 16 people on the board, nine are non-family. DeLuca described how the board composition has created an increasingly rich operation that works well with the grantee community.

Said De Luca, “Broadening our board has not changed our DNA. You can still maintain that sense of family – just expand your definition.”  It’s about, he added, expanding your knowledge to be better grantmakers.

Embracing Diversity Not Just about Demographics
De Luca provided ample evidence of how changing board perspectives – and other intentional actions – led to tangible changes in the composition of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation grantees (see graphic).

He commented on how inclusion is infused in everything the foundation board and staff does – their language, practices, advocacy and more. Here is how diversity is explicitly called out in the organization’s strategic plan:

We seek out organizations led by people of color and/or working in low income communities. We support efforts to develop the leadership skills of, and foster the participation by, low income people and people of color.

(At the Minnesota Council on Foundations, we have articulated that holistic view in our Diversity Framework, which describes how philanthropists can embrace diversity and inclusion in their four primary roles as: grantmakers, employers, business entities and community citizens.)

Resources to Use at Your Own Pace
All the NCFP panel members encouraged family foundations to move at their own pace, following their own values. Deborah Santana encouraged families to be conscious and open, and to make use of the rich array of available resources.

Judy Belk concluded by saying, “The diversity on the road ahead may look like a huge mountain, but don’t feel like it’s insurmountable.”

Here are just a few of many resources to help you begin your journey:

Join the conversation: As a philanthropist, think about your roles as funder, employer, business entity and community citizen.  What one step can you take today to intentionally address diversity, inclusion or equity in your work?

– Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services

New Officers, Directors and Strategic Plan for MCF

February 9, 2012

MCF's 2012 board officers

The Minnesota Council on Foundations has elected a new slate of board officers and directors to help lead the organization forward in 2012 and beyond.

Officers elected for 2012 are:

  • Board Chair: Kevin Walker, president and CEO, Northwest Area Foundation
  • Vice Chair: Carolyn Roby, vice president, Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota
  • Secretary: Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation
  • Treasurer: Nancy Nelson, vice president, chief actuary, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2014 are:

  • Brad Kruse, program director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation
  • Gary Nan Tie, trustee, Jerome Foundation
  • Tim Thorpe, trustee, James R. Thorpe Foundation.

Elected to second three-year terms are:

  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO, Northwest Area Foundation
  • Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation
  • Mark Hiemenz, partner relations officer, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners
  • Mark Lindberg, director of relief, recovery and development, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, were each elected to a second three-year term.

LaTresse Snead, community relations team lead, Tastefully Simple, was elected to fill a vacancy; her term will end in 2013.

MCF also announced a new mission, vision and strategic plan. The new mission is: MCF expands and strengthens a vibrant community of diverse grantmakers who individually and collectively advance the common good.

The new strategic plan, LEADERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE | 2012-2014, continues MCF’s long-standing commitment to provide outstanding service to members while concurrently advancing new initiatives around diversity and public policy.

Welcome to MCF’s new officers and directors as they prepare to help carry out these new goals!


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