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.


Getting Networked by Nature

January 13, 2014

nbnWhen it comes to a tool like social media, it’s important to think beyond official messages sent out from an organization’s account.

The real power comes when people, including staff and board members who care about an organization, are empowered to spread the word as individuals. After all, social media is social, and people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

That was the message shared by Cary Walski, technology education and outreach coordinator at MAP for Nonprofits, at a technology breakout at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening. Walski used statistics from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (where I also happen to be a board member) to make her point.

Traffic on the group’s website nearly tripled in one year, and event attendance increased 45 percent in the same time period. So how did they do it?

  1. YNPN-TC used social media as one part of a cohesive online communications strategy that also included a robust website and timely email marketing.
  2. YNPN-TC adopted a positive social media culture.

First Steps
In order for an organization to embrace a positive social media culture, several things must happen first.

  • Recognize that staff and board are always representing the organization; trust them to do it well on social media, as they do elsewhere.
  • Agree to a policy of 100 percent participation on social media, and include it in staff job descriptions.
  • Provide ongoing social media education
  • Write social media policies that are “Yes and,” instead of “No, no.”

Grantmakers Must Move Beyond Concern
Walski noted that grantmakers in particular may be hesitant to adopt a policy of complete availability on social media, fearing that it could lead to an increase of poorly-fitting grant proposals. However, she made the case that it’s time to move beyond concern and embrace openness. Here’s why:

  • Social media is a great way to promote and support the work of grantees.
  • It provides additional avenues for community members to reach out to foundation staff.
  • It may illuminate new opportunities for a foundation to meet mission and serve community.
  • It gives program staff new ways to learn about issues they care about.
  • It increases staff visibility, so they are increasingly looked to as thought leaders.

Roadmap
How does an organization transition to a positive social media culture? Here’s the roadmap Walski laid out:

  • Survey and Align: Determine who your internal staff and board enthusiasts are, and identify or hire a social media champion.
  • Build: Ensure your organization’s practices and policies encourage social media. Have your social media champions inspire and educate staff at informal gatherings such as brown bag lunches.
  • Evaluate: Demonstrate the value to leadership and board members by using metrics like those in Google Analytics. Share screenshots of particularly poignant social media “mission moments.”
  • Innovate: Stay on top of changing technology and help your organization find that next connection that will lead to improved service.

Through it all, don’t forget: people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

For further inspiration on jumpstarting your organization’s positive social media culture, check out Idealware’s The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide and Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services by Idealware and MAP for Nonprofits.

- Chris Oien, MCF digital communications specialist


New Year’s Resolution: Unburden Your Grantees

January 3, 2014

resolveIs being more productive near the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions?  And do you want to make your resolution stick all year long?

If so, take the advice of our friends at Project Streamline, and you’ll soon be saving precious time and money  – for you and your grant applicants.  Here are three easy changes to make today so you all can focus more energy and resources on your missions:

  • Shift to using a Letter of Inquiry (LOI).  Why make potential grantees prepare a full grant proposal (and why take time to read it?) when they may not be a fit with your guidelines?  Let them pick up the phone or send an email to verify your interest.
  • Pull information you need from existing sources.  Why ask grantees to reformat and send financial information that’s already available from public sources?  For instance, use the wealth of data in their IRS 990s on Guidestar.
  • Ask only for information you’ll read and use.  And while you’re at it, accept the information in a common grant or common report form.

More Easy-to-Implement Changes
These are just a few of many excellent and doable suggestions from Project Streamline, the collaborative initiative of the Grants Managers Network and other effectiveness-minded organizations in the philanthropic and nonprofit spheres.

For an overview of Project Streamline’s latest Practices that Matter report (pdf), read my colleague Susan Stehling’s Philanthropy Potluck blog post from last summer.

Then check out all the excellent resources on the Project Streamline website, including the four core principles and practices,  the grantmaker assessment tool, and the Ask Dr. Streamline blog.

Your Resolution is a Yearlong Gift
Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?  Because we want to align our values and our actions.  (For MCF members, that means putting our Principles for Grantmakers into practice.)

There’s no better way to fulfill your New Year’s resolution than to adopt Project Streamline’s good grantmaking guidelines.

You’ll lighten the load on yourself and your grant applicants, demonstrate your respect for our hard-working nonprofits, boost your productivity and efficiency, and free up more money for mission throughout 2014 and beyond.

– Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services

Photo cc BazaarBizarreSF


The Top Ten Posts of 2013

December 31, 2013

fw2013 was quite the year for us at MCF, with big changes internally plus lots of important conversations and movement in diversity, public policy and more. As it comes to a close, here’s a chance to see our most popular posts of 2013. Take a trip down memory lane, or see what you missed!

1. MCF Names Trista Harris as New President

The biggest news at MCF in 2013, as new leadership signaled our way forward in the years to come.

2. Five Things I Learned About Philanthropy at MCF

Stephanie Jacobs, former director of member services, shares what she took from her time here. “Philanthropy is at its best when foundations not only embrace their role as grantmakers, but also step into the field as conveners, facilitators, provocateurs and risk takers.”

3. Wanted: Your Million Dollar Idea to Make Saint Paul Great

The launch of 2013′s Minnesota Idea Open, ultimately won by Urban Oasis.

4. Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Challenged by Minnesota House

The House’s proposed charitable giving changes were opposed by MCF and many others in the nonprofit community.

5. How Do Foundation Program Officers Gauge Grant Impact?

Including a video to let you hear firsthand from Medica Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation and The McKnight Foundation.

6. A Twin Cities Identity Crisis?

An essay commissioned by The McKnight Foundation, titled “Mary Tyler Moore Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” argued that Minneapolis and St. Paul have an image problem, in part from the moniker “Twin Cities.”

7. New Bush Foundation Programs Support Community Innovation

An announcement by the Bush Foundation kicked off these substantial new grant programs to reward those thinking differently on how to address community issues.

8. Techniques for Excellent Writing

Several great takeaways from an MCF program that are sure to improve your writing technique.

9. Minneapolis Develops New Index to Measure Creative Vitality of City

a new resource for policymakers, arts professionals, artists and community arts advocates designed to capture the impact of Minneapolis’s creative community.

10. Inventing and Innovating to Tackle Minnesota’s Racial Disparities

Minnesota Compass’s annual meeting in 2013 challenged attendees to think of new ways to address the large racial achievement gaps in Minnesota.

Join the conversation: What were your favorite Philanthropy Potluck posts of 2013?


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