Take a Virtual Coffee Break!

July 29, 2014

gcftPhilanthropy – we need each other to do it well, and it’s imperative that we make time to share stories, compare notes and answer questions. My favorite way to engage is over coffee or lunch, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes online advice – I call it a virtual coffee break – will do.

I know GrantCraft for their excellent guides, and I’ve used many of them in my work. The site has now been completely reorganized, making lots of great content much easier to locate and use. They’ve also made it easier to find out what other grantmakers have got brewing and to contribute your own lessons learned.

Maybe you’re working on an initiative that’s new to your community but has taken off elsewhere, or you have a burning question that you’d like a lot of people to weigh in on right now. Those are a couple of the reasons I’m hoping that GrantCraft’s new features really take off.

I encourage you to take a fresh look at the site, share your wisdom and comment on the questions asked by others. All of the discussions on the site are searchable and will be archived. Today when I checked, there were funders wondering how others help grantees beyond grants, how grantmakers help grantees find new money, challenges that arise when collaborating with other funders and how your organization structures challenge grants. These are all questions that I know many of our MCF members can help answer for other grantmakers.

Every success I have had in this field has been because of connections I’ve made and people I’ve met. GrantCraft now provides us a virtual opportunity to widen our networks and learn from grantmakers we haven’t yet met. If we take advantage of it, we’ll each improve our own practice, and we’ll better the field of philanthropy together. Let’s use it to stimulate real results!

- Trista Harris, MCF president


MCF Welcomes Na Eng as Director of Communications

July 10, 2014

Na EngMCF is pleased to welcome Na Eng as our new interim director of communications.

As an award-winning journalist for PBS and CNBC, Na covered a broad range of critical economic and social issues, such as health care, education, immigration and renewable energy. Her hard hitting reporting took her to far-flung destinations all over the world and earned her top industry honors, including an Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Na also served as a senior communications officer for the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps where she managed media relations and wrote op-eds, web copy, press releases and other material.

At MCF, Na will direct strategic communications planning for the coming year. Returning to Minnesota after a long career in New York, she is excited for the opportunity to contribute to the state’s vibrant foundation and nonprofit community.

Welcome Na!

 


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.)

Transparency
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





Resource-full Nonprofit Revenue Generation

February 3, 2014

resourcefullnesshomebannerToday on the blog we welcome Beth Bird and Kim Hunwardsen of Eide Bailly, to tell us about their organization’s Resourcefullness Award, and the ideas that sprang from it.

What do you get when you offer a $10,000 award for sustainable and creative revenue generation in the nonprofit industry? A flood of inspiring submissions!

Last year, Eide Bailly’s nonprofit services group did something different to encourage conversation and ingenuity around revenue generation – something our clients think about daily. We ended up with 99 submissions for the Eide Bailly Resourcefullness Award, three fantastic winners (video), and a host of creative and sustainable ideas to spark discussion. (Read this article on submission trends.)

Beyond celebrating the winning efforts, we wanted to use the Eide Bailly Resourcefullness Award as a springboard for sharing and collaboration.

The following highlights are from a January seminar that we held in Minneapolis to discuss the best ideas.

Future Trends
Susan Cornell-Wilkes and Brad Brown were judges for the Resourcefullness Award. In January, we asked about the nonprofit revenue generation trends they see gathering strength in the next five years.

- Crowd funding
- Nonprofits creating for-profit entities
- A focus on intergenerational wealth transfer

  • Organizations will be and should be looking for opportunities to involve multiple generations of one family in its endeavors. This will go a long way to creating present buy-in donor stability in the future.

- Moving beyond “Corporate” involvement in campaigns

  • Getting employees involved in the organization, rather than just accepting a corporate donation, will be the key to sustainability in funding from that organization and in growth of individual donors.

- Helping donors “experience” the difference their donations are making

  • Donors, especially younger donors, are looking to “purchase an experience.” They do not just want to hear from nonprofits in letters and email, but rather experience the effects of an organization work.

Our Take-Aways
The Resourcefullness Awards and our January speakers reminded us of two very important things:

  1. Organizations are getting more creative in their approach to revenue generation, but this does not mean an approach must be complex. Sometimes the simplest ideas create the best results.
  2. Well-placed and well-planned partnerships are some of the easiest and most fruitful ventures.

Give To The Max Day Strategies
We also heard from two organizations that employed creative Give to the Max strategies.

Erich Mische, executive director of Spare Key, described its media-grabbing, world-record setting 2012 strategy Pedal to the Max, which had volunteers on a pedal pub for 24 hours. The campaign helped Spare Key reach goals around having fun and grabbing attention while engaging donors, volunteers and partners. Mische said media coverage and social media played a huge role in broadening the reach of the organization’s message. And, Spare Key raised five times its original fundraising goal.

Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery’s development and communications director, Joel Bergstrom, shared its 2013 Give to the Max campaign, which used video and social media to draw attention and generate support. A donation of video production helped the organization create a powerful video that then led to media coverage. The organization used a Facebook contest to draw in visitors and donors, and advocates lobbied hard on social media for donations to Crisis Nursery. As a result, followers of the organization have increased and their messages receive greater exposure.


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