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


Cargill Honored for Anti-poverty Work

February 25, 2014

na31147002CECP, a coalition of 150 CEOs who believe that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance, recently announced that Cargill (an MCF member) and the PG&E Corporation are recipients of the 14th Annual Excellence Awards.

These companies were chosen by an independent jury as global leaders in corporate societal investment, exemplifying four rigorous Standards of Excellence: CEO leadership, partnership, dedication to measurement and innovation.

The Chairman’s Award, for companies with revenues of $20 billion and more, was presented to Cargill for its work with CARE on the Rural Development Initiatives, which harnesses the company’s passion for improving livelihoods by empowering smallholder farmers, strengthening agricultural supply chains and alleviating poverty. The selection committee was struck by Cargill’s focus on society’s great challenge — poverty — and its desire to strengthen the communities where the company has a presence.

Launched in October 2008, the partnership with CARE leverages their respective skills and experience – working with business units and local employees within important supply chains. The program has benefited more than 100,000 people in India, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Brazil.

“CARE is a terrific partner and we are honored to be recognized for our collective work to increase incomes, improve nutrition and education, and help farmers become more successful,” said Cargill executive chairman Greg Page (pictured left). “Last fall we renewed and expanded our partnership for another three years with an increased focus on food security.”



“Finish Strong” Funders Coalition Supports Older Adults

February 21, 2014

Spending several days with my home-bound elderly mother this week has given me new perspectives on the “graying of America.”

Let’s just say that I’m not looking forward to losing my driver’s license, walking with a cane and having difficulty cutting an apple or reaching up to my kitchen cupboards.

Of course, thousands of baby boomers in Minnesota feel the same way, and many more will face far greater challenges. And that’s one reason the philanthropic community is paying attention to the great “age wave.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the number of Minnesotans ages 65 and up will nearly double between now and 2035, while other age groups will grow on average only six percent. (Learn more about our state’s changing demographics at Minnesota Compass.)

Funders for Aging Services
A statewide network of grantmakers affiliated with the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) has just announced a new name for their group:  the Finish Strong Funders Coalition for Aging Services.  (Yes, they’re working at the other end of the age spectrum from the Start Early Funders Coalition.)

The network describes itself as “a wide array of public and private funders dedicated to funding services that support older adults in the community as important contributors, assets, and resources.”

Like several of MCF’s member networks, this group understands the importance of private and community foundations, corporate givers and government entities working together to face society’s challenges. And aging is a big challenge that’s closing in fast on all of us.

Resources on Aging
If you’re a grantmaker, a nonprofit aging services provider, elder or caregiver who wants to learn more about the impact of aging in our communities, here are just a few links to get you started:

And if you’re a grantmaker interested in learning more about Minnesota’s Finish Strong Funders Coalition, contact Tara Kumar, MCF member services manager, at tkumar@mcf.org.

By dedicating resources and coming together in formal and informal networks such as these, I have a growing confidence that we’ll transform our communities in ways in which we can live and age well. Then we’ll all have rides when we can no longer drive, as well as a helping hand in the kitchen.

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


Honor Those Committed to Human Service

February 20, 2014

VMBWebImageThe McKnight Foundation recently opened nominations for its 2014 Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service. Every year, this award honors up to six Minnesotans who have demonstrated an exceptional personal commitment to helping others in their communities but who have received little or no public recognition.

Nominations are welcome to recognize anyone directly involved in providing human services, especially those working to make their communities more responsive to the needs of poor or disadvantaged people in Minnesota. Criteria include:

  • Nominees may be volunteers or service staff working directly with people in Minnesota.
  • Nominees (and the work for which they are being nominated) do not have to be associated with any organization to be eligible.
  • Individuals may not nominate themselves.
  • Nominees may not be past Human Service Award recipients.
  • Nominees must be current residents of Minnesota.
  • Nominees may be any age.
  • Tenure of service will be taken into consideration.

A committee, composed of human service professionals and volunteers from throughout Minnesota, reviews nominations, checks references, and recommends candidates to the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Each awardee receives $10,000 and is honored at a ceremony in late summer.

Know someone worthy of a nomination? Submit it on The McKnight Foundation website!



Nominate Grantmakers Making an Impact

February 13, 2014

NCRP-logo-color-with-tagline-2014The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is on the lookout for grantmakers to honor with its 2014 NCRP Impact Awards, and wants to hear from you.

Which foundations do you think had the greatest impact and made positive, lasting change in 2013? NCRP is looking for grantmakers maximizing their philanthropy by:

  • Attacking the root causes of social problems
  • Empowering underserved communities
  • Helping improve the sector as a whole through public leadership

There will be one awardee in each of these four categories:

  • Large, Private Foundation (annual giving of $25 million or more)
  • Small/Mid-Sized Private Foundation (annual giving less than $25 million)
  • Corporate Foundation (any size)
  • Grantmaking Public Charity (any size)

Last year’s awardees included grantmakers from California, New York and Illinois. It’s time to get Minnesota on the map!

Nominations are due March 1. The awards reception will take place June 9 in Washington, D.C.

Nominate a worthy grantmaker today, and spread the word on Facebook and Twitter!


Mission Investing Gaining Minnesota Momentum

February 12, 2014

mieEvery seat was filled at Northwest Area Foundation on Tuesday at a grantmaker “think tank” on mission investing.

What is mission investing? According to Mission Investors Exchange:

Mission investments cover two distinct categories: market-rate mission-related investments (MRIs) that have a positive social impact while contributing to the foundation’s long-term financial stability and growth; and program-related investments (PRIs) that are designed to achieve specific program objectives while earning a below-market rate return.

In other words, it’s about  using the so-called “other 95%” (beyond the 5% annual grants payout) to achieve mission.

According to MCF’s latest Giving in Minnesota report, Minnesota grantmakers grant approximately $1.7 billion annually and hold almost $18 billion in foundation assets. Through mission investing strategies they can leverage a portion of that $18 billion for social good. (For more on mission investing, also check out NCRP’s Winter 2013-2014 edition of Responsive Philanthropy.)

The Minnesota Experience
Prior to Tuesday’s event, some Minnesota grantmakers completed an informal survey about their experiences related to mission investing. Highlights of the responses included:

  • Program-related investments (PRIs) as loans are a commonly used tool and are often directed to economic development for low-income neighborhoods and job creation.
  • Growth of mission investing is hampered by lack of staff expertise and capacity, as well as a dearth of effective and experienced investment and legal advisors who understand and embrace the concept.
  • Finding investments with a strong financial and social return and measuring results can be challenging.
  • Despite challenges, foundations are intentionally pursuing mission investing and even setting targets for percentage of invested assets.
  • Community foundations have a growing interest  in mission investing among donor advisors.

Also discussed during the “think tank” were increased opportunities to engage in mission investing outside of the nonprofit sphere, such as with social enterprises and for-profit businesses.

For instance, philanthropy could seed investments in green technology or otherwise put dollars behind ideas that will influence the marketplace for good.

Learn More
Several intermediaries and other organizations are already working in the mission-investing space in Minnesota, including Nonprofits Assistance Fund, Community Reinvestment Fund, MEDA, WomenVenture and others.

At the meeting, Peter Berliner and his colleagues from Seattle-based Mission Investors Exchange also offered their knowledge, expertise and connections. To meet local and national peers, grantmakers can sign up for the Mission Investors Exchange 2014 National Conference to be held in Minneapolis from May 13 to 15. (Early bird registration ends February 28!)

To connect with other Minnesota grantmakers who are pursuing mission-investing strategies, contact MCF at info@mcf.org.

As event organizers Brad Brown, former head of Social Venture Partners Minnesota, and Susan Hammel, executive director of the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, noted, mission investing is a lot less risky than perceived.  And a planned approach with full board engagement can really pay off – in social impact and financial rewards.

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


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