Apply Now for the 2014 Bush Prize

April 9, 2014

Bush-AltLogo-ColorYesterday, the Bush Foundation announced it has opened applications for its 2014 Bush Prize for Community Innovation. This prize honors and supports innovative organizations with a track record of making great ideas happen. The Bush Prize provides creative capital for the organizations to use however they choose.

Open to public charities and government entities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and 23 Native nations that share the same geography, selection criteria for the Bush Prize include:

  • Does the organization have a pattern of innovative solutions?
  • Does the organization have a pattern of using inclusive, collaborative and resourceful processes?
  • Does the organizational leadership foster a culture of innovation?
  • Is the organization stable and strong in terms of governance and finance?

Applications are due June 5. Finalists will be chosen in July, with site visits in August and September. Winners will be selected in November, with funds dispersed in December.

Prize winners receive a package of recognition, along with a flexible grant of 25% of the organization’s last fiscal year budget, up to $500,000. See the stories of the nine winners from 2013.

Visit the Bush Foundation’s website for all the details and to access the online application. Best of luck to those applying!

 


What Are Real Barriers to 21st Century Grantmaking?

January 24, 2014

While listening to some research highlights about Native American philanthropy yesterday, I got to wondering: Why have grantmaking methods changed so little since the 20th century? What are the invisible roadblocks that are preventing us from adopting 21st-century grantmaking practices?

In the Native Voices Rising report are 17 recommendations to increase grantmaking effectiveness and impact. Although written from a Native perspective, these suggested changes could be adapted for nearly any cultural or issue-based group:

  1. Provide increased funding for Native organizing.
  2. Provide more general operating and capacity-building support.
  3. Make long-term multi-year funding commitments.
  4. Fund grassroots Native organizations directly.
  5. Invest in leadership development.
  6. Support Native intermediaries that are solidly grounded in Native movements.
  7. Support income-generating activities such as social enterprises.
  8. Support development of the telecommunications/media infrastructure.
  9. Provide on-going operating support to voter engagement organizations beyond national election cycles in order to sustain progress and momentum.
  10. Incorporate interdisciplinary grant approaches that draw funds from multiple foundation program categories to support organizations and projects conducting work at the intersection of those programs, e.g., culture and environment.
  11. Listen and learn about Native communities, including issues, needs, and aspirations.
  12. Be more responsive than directive; find common interests.
  13. Communicate information about grant programs more broadly in the Native world.
  14. Conduct research on needs in the field in partnership with Native organizations.
  15. Look beyond the small population numbers as compared to other racial/ethnic groups.
  16. Bring Natives into the foundation as staff, board members and resource people, involving them in shaping and implementing foundation programs.
  17. Pool funds from small grant funders to streamline the grants application process and reporting requirements.

If you are a grantmaker, or if you work anywhere in the independent sector, I expect you’ve seen versions of these recommendations many times before. So what is hindering our adoption of these 21st-century grantmaking practices? I confess I don’t have the answers, but I bet you do.

Join the Conversation
Grantmakers, which of these recommendations have you already incorporated in your work? Which new practices would make the greatest difference to your grantees’ success? And which would dramatically improve your grantmaking effectiveness?

Please share your experiences. Together we can identify and break down the barriers to change.

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


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 Future of Combined Giving

August 26, 2013
unitedway

Nonprofits like United Way have a long history of combined-giving campaigns.

Although this year especially, it seems like summer just started, before you know it the kids will be headed back to school and fall combined-giving campaigns will be in full swing.

Combined-giving campaigns — such as United Way, Community Health Charities, Combined Federal Campaign and others — have a long history of nonprofit support. Traditionally, large employers have participated to encourage employee support of nonprofits. But today, with more small businesses and fewer people employed by large companies, campaign pitch meetings and payroll deductions don’t work at the old scale.

However, Steve Boland, financial specialist, Nonprofits Assistance Fund, says combined-giving campaigns aren’t going away anytime soon and believes that with a little creativity they will thrive well into the future.

In the summer issue of Giving Forum, Steve gives examples of where combined-giving has been and where it’s going. Read the full article here.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate


Streamlining Grantmaking: Perception vs. Reality?

May 20, 2013

TakingStockReportcoverGrants should facilitate the mission-critical work of nonprofits, but sometimes that’s not exactly how it works.

A new report by Grants Managers Network and the Project Streamline collaborative reveals that after five years of promoting effective ways to improve grant requirements, many nonprofits continue to feel burdened.

More than 700 grantmakers and grantseekers participated in a survey that revealed a continuing gap between grantmakers — who say they have streamlined — and grantseekers — who continue to find processes too unwieldy. Here’s a quick summary of the findings from the new report, Practices That Matter.

Project Streamline Principles Widely Recognized
Project Streamline’s principles are widely recognized in the grantmaking community. Almost all grantmakers say they have made or are planning streamlining changes. Here’s what else they said:

  • 93% are familiar with the impact of grantmaking practice on nonprofits,
  • 90% are familiar with the principles of clear and straightforward grantmaking communications,
  • 87% are aware that taking a fresh look at application and reporting requirements is recommended,
  • 86% realize that reducing the burden on grantseekers is important,
  • 81% are familiar with “right-sizing” — where application and reporting requirements are in proportion to the grant size and type.

Unfortunately, it takes a long time for changes in individual practice to become true culture change. So, nonprofits still spend too much time meeting requirements that are poorly designed, redundant, inappropriately scaled or simply mystifying.

Continuing Issues for Grantmakers
The research showed some grantmaker progress and brought to light issues that remain.

1: Take a fresh look at information requirements.

  • More than 80% of grantmakers say they have revised application or reporting requirements to ask for only what they use in decision-making. But grantmakers still don’t like to accept information that’s not specifically developed for them.
  • In fact, 84% of grantseekers say grantmakers rarely or never accept common applications, and 62% rarely or never encounter a funder who accepts standard or no reports.

2: Right-size expectations.

  • Grantmakers say they are paying attention to the relationship between requirements and grant size and type; 55% say they have revised applications and 59% have revised reporting requirements to be appropriate to grant size.
  • But 72% of grantseekers say applications for small grants are rarely or never proportionate to the level of funding. The same number say they have rarely or never encountered a simplified application for repeat grants.

3: Reduce the burden.

  • 91% of grantmakers now use an online system or accept applications via email. With the shift toward electronic submission, 84% no longer require multiple copies of materials.
  • But going online doesn’t equal streamlining. Poorly designed and untested systems remain a big source of grantseeker aggravation. Grantseekers cite  system issues including:
    • forms in which data cannot be cut and pasted but must be input one item at a time,
    • forms with stringent character limits,
    • forms that don’t allow users to review all questions in advance, save work, or go back to previous responses,
    • and myriad other bugs.
  • Furthermore, 50% of grantseekers say paper systems are still prevalent among funders.

4: Provide clear and straightforward communications.

  • 91% of grantmakers say they have revised communication to make it clearer and more straightforward; 84% have made messages consistent across all platforms.
  • But getting clear guidance and reaching a person continue to be barriers for grantseekers, who report confusing, inconsistent and insufficient communication. Grantseekers say online systems too often stand in for direct communication, which builds an unintended barrier to relationship.

Read the entire Practices That Matter report. You can also take an interactive quiz to find out how “streamlining savvy” you are, download ​Making More Time for Mission, an overview of the report, and more.

How do you think grantmakers in Minnesota stack up against these national statistics? Let us know your experience.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate


Cultural Competence in Site Visits and Life

May 2, 2013
guglielmoher

Rudy Guglielmo, Jr., of Youthprise and Lue Her of Otto Bremer Foundation

As part its ongoing Effective Grantmaking Series, MCF hosted Effective, Culturally Competent Site Visits.

Site visits are an excellent opportunity for foundations to connect with potential grantees and get a clearer picture of what applicants do and whom they serve. They are also a way to develop relationships, beyond the typical grantmaker/grantee dynamic.

Lissa Jones, MCF’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, shared “Three Giant Steps to Cultural Competence.”

  1. Build your own awareness. Bias is often transferred unconsciously, so check in with yourself about your cultural biases. What, for example, did your grandfather say about the value of immigrants?  As we become aware of our biases, we can work to make more culturally-informed grantmaking decisions.
  2. Develop a way of knowing. Go to cultural events, read a community paper, check out opportunities in your neighborhood to learn about other cultures. It’s all around if you look for it!
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Develop relationships, engage in the community and realize this is a lifelong endeavor. You’ll never say, “OK, I’m done. I’ve learned it all, and now I’m culturally competent!”

Panelists for the session were program officers Rudy Guglielmo, Jr., Youthprise, and Lue Her, Otto Bremer Foundation.

youthprise

Youthprise Site Visits: Guglielmo gave examples of how to look at the sector, organizational capacity and program effectiveness with a cultural lens (put yourself in the applicant’s shoes), rather than a traditional foundation lens (develop a rationale for an investment).

A traditional lens values information veracity, research accuracy, alignment of the grantee with foundation guidelines and may involve less transparent decision-making.

A cultural lens puts cultural identity at the center of the conversation and allows for an asset-based approach with an open-ended conversation between foundation and applicant. Use of a cultural lens is not a substitute for due diligence, but it is a way to learn about an applicant in a community context. It can be an effective way to evaluate requests in areas that are traditionally hard to quantify (leadership, community organizing, youth development) and provide an opportunity to establish an ongoing relationship with a potential grantee.

Guglielmo closed with a list of learning strategies: accompany an experienced funder into the field, commit to regular visits to an organization and use the foundation’s capacity to convene and allow for peer learning. The biggest barrier to culturally competent site visits is the need to build relationships.

obf

Otto Bremer Foundation Site Visits: Her says site visits are the backbone of the Otto Bremer Foundation and a principle tenant of its work. Each visit is important in establishing or maintaining a relationship, learning about community and doing due diligence.

On Her’s first site visit with Bremer, he accompanied another program officer to “learn the ropes.” During the visit, proposal-related questions were not asked, instead the conversation focused on what was going on in the community. Trust was established and the relationship grew from there.

Culturally competent site visits are not done in isolation; they are one piece of the puzzle. Before a visit, research is done, conversations held and trust established. You have to make time to build relationships, as there is no crash course in culture.

Her ended by saying the road to cultural competence starts with one relationship, and you’re becoming culturally competent when you don’t have to think about it so much.

- Megan Sullivan, MCF operations and publications coordinator


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