Pulling Up the Drawbridge on Volunteers

Andrew_headshot3By Andrew Grabois
New York, NY

Aaron Hurst, founder and former head of the Taproot Foundation, penned a fascinating Op-Ed piece that appeared in last weekend’s Sunday Times Review. In it, Hurst argued that the inability of nonprofits to absorb, train, and manage willing volunteers, “masks a broader problem in our society, which is the lack of purpose in our regular jobs.”  Instead of looking to nonprofits to provide the “cause” missing from our lives, Hurst suggests that we look to the workplace to provide meaningful, purpose-driven work, and, more importantly, to ourselves, for cultivating the “self-awareness” that allows us to “take ownership” of our interior lives and create that sense of purpose and engagement so sought after in volunteer service. Coming from the former leader of the Taproot Foundation, whose mission is to “engage professionals in pro bono service that drives social change,” this is pretty bracing stuff. But this is no fuzzy New Age parable. The problems faced by nonprofits as they try to digest volunteers are real and unforgiving. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sloping Reality of Spend Down

This is the third consecutive piece of the series that examines issues relating to employee attitudes and relations within a spend down environment. 

Solomon Head Shot

By Jeffrey Solomon
President, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
New York, NY

Immense change is part of life for any foundation that is spending down. Employees are naturally concerned about their futures, while management is focused on smooth organizational transition.

So it is no surprise that of all the managerial issues presented in time-limited foundations, those involving human resources – and the emotional toll attached – claim the greatest amount of energy and deserve a great deal of thoughtful and purposeful attention.

Two recent pieces in this series captured ground-level dynamics of employees choosing to leave or join a time-limited foundation. And so here, it’s logical that I address some of the personnel management issues that have emerged during this period at The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP).

From the inception of ACBP in 1986, Andrea and Charles Bronfman understood that staff was the most important resource. Our founders manifested that understanding in a variety of ways – some practical, some symbolic – but all with the objective of developing, incubating, supporting, and integrating staff as key players in realizing ACBP’s philanthropic mission.

One example of this was the existence of a full-time human resources manager and an information resources management professional on our staff. While this may appear standard, even mundane, for us it was not. These positions could well have been outsourced, considering the relatively small size of our staff. But their in-house presence underscored the centrality of their roles and the high value placed on personnel in the overall ACBP framework.

Neither of these positions exist now – one is outsourced and the other has been absorbed by an existing staff member – even though ACBP is still slightly less than two years from complete spend down. This simple fact well reflects the sloping reality of operating a spend down environment, and doing more with less in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

In 2009, ACBP notified its regular annual grantees that support would terminate in 2012, the same year that we ended any consideration of new grants.  Clearly, at this turning point as ACBP reduced annual grantmaking, it had a responsibility to examine its costs and shift and reduce program and support staff.

We moved to shift some of the staff resources remaining at ACBP to the 11 initiatives incubated by the foundation that would have sustainable operations beyond our 2016 closing.

Some of the foundation’s operating programs – including Slingshot, 21/64, Reboot, and the Green Environment Fund – had been spun off as independent organizations, taking staff with them.

In this way, we looked to the superb capacity-building example of the Irene Diamond Foundation, which placed its personnel with grantees – aligned with their needs – and made special grants to support positions and ensure employees’ economic security and professional growth.

For us, notification of employees began in 2010 and has been generous in terms of time and severance benefits. Our collective ACBP counsel exists to help and advise in job searches for those requesting that support.

From 2011, when ACBP publicly announced its spend down, to today, the number of employees has declined by 60 percent, or 12 employees.  Yet despite the new normal, including a move to a less expansive headquarters office, our work continues in grantmaking and stewardship, and we in fact attract new employees who are excited to work in support of our mission and derive professional lessons from a foundation at this late stage of its life. Working close to a living donor in an organizationally flat structure with less staff is a unique opportunity.

Still, there was and continues to be a natural anxiety permeating the culture.  This is to be expected. Transparency, honesty and generosity are, indeed, mitigating factors. Nevertheless, such mitigation is but one aspect of the human resource culture of a foundation and those of us responsible for the leadership of time-limited foundations should not delude ourselves into believing that stresses are not present.

We need to manage it by expediting decisions and communicating them, or sharing reasons for any ambiguities.

This is the sixth post in the “Making Change by Spending Down” series, produced in partnership by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and GrantCraft. Please contribute your comments on each post and discuss the series on twitter using #spenddown. You can learn more about this project on the GrantCraft web site.

Diversity: A Means or an End?

By: Lori Bezahler
New York, NY

Common wisdom tells us that racial and ethnic diversity in our sector will result in a greater emphasis on issues of racial equity and attention to solutions that are rooted in the experiences of people of color.  Clearly representation is critical, but true inclusion requires more than simply checking boxes.  Attention must be paid to addressing the dynamics of power inherent in the relationship between a philanthropic institution and the community it seeks to serve.

The Edward Hazen Foundation’s institutional record indicates an evolution in thinking about race and diversity beginning in the 1970s when the Board of Trustees began to focus on ensuring that the organizations it supported were led by people representative of and from the communities being served. It also began to focus on activities that engaged parents and young people in taking a powerful role in the life of their schools and communities.  These evolving interests paralleled the increasing diversity of the Board of Trustees itself.  Hazen board minutes note that the composition of the board had changed dramatically in the time since just after World War II “from twelve men drawn mainly from private colleges, to ten men and five women, one third of whom represent minorities.”  The 2014 Hazen board comprises five women and two men; five of the seven are people of color.  The Foundation’s three presidents since 1988 have all been women, two of them women of color. Read the rest of this entry »

Vote for Glasspockets to Win a WEBBY Award!

We are delighted to announce that Glasspockets.org, the Foundation Center’s web site and initiative to champion greater philanthropic transparency, has been nominated for a Webby Award!  Glasspockets, originally launched in 2010, underwent a complete site redesign last year to improve usability and interactivity.  Webby, the online awards group “honoring excellence on the Internet” nominated Glasspockets in its Charitable Organizations/Nonprofit category as one of the five best web sites in the world in its category.

This means Glasspockets is competing for the Internet industry’s two most coveted awards: The Webby Award and The Webby People’s Voice Award.  Since the People’s Voice Award is entirely based on audience selection, we ask you to please vote for Glasspockets.org today!  And please help us spread the word to your communities and vote by April 24th. Winners will be announced April 29th.


Overheard: Julian Corner on Philanthropy’s Changing Landscape

“Pre-2008 the government had a lot of money to spend, which meant it could drive at social results which it could achieve within the length of a parliament. The model was to identify evidence-based practice and roll it out quickly. Foundations were part of the delivery chain. Now the model is bust because the money has gone. The ‘what works’ agenda no longer works – if it ever did. Rather, we need problem solving, and long-term, sophisticated models. Foundations have to take a step back and ask themselves if they want to be a part of it any more.”

-Julian Corner, CEO, Lankelly Chase Foundation, at the Alliance Breakfast Club held in London last summer.

Corner was joined by many other panelists during the July 25 conversation including Bharat Mehta, the Chief Executive of Trust for London, and Anthony Tomei, former director of the Nuffield Foundation and trustee of the Bell Foundation. Read the related Alliance article by Caroline Hartnell recapping the club’s debate about how philanthropy has changed in recent years in the United Kingdom.

[Editor's Note: We had this queued up months ago and it never posted; although it's late, it's still a very timely conversation.]

Aid Transparency Data is Growing (and Being Ranked!)


By Yinebon Iniya 
New York, NY

This blog was re-posted with permission from glasspockets.org

In almost every corner of the philanthropic world, transparency appears to be the buzzword these days.  Foundations and donors often talk about their efforts to more strategically catalyze change and make an impact, however, while they have great stories to share, the quantifiable outcomes of their efforts are difficult to fully measure and further, in many cases, best practices that may potentially help others become more effective are not shared at all.

So what’s happening in the world of government aid, where there has also been a lot of transparency talk, especially around the looming Millennium Development Goals?

If you were at the Opening Up Aid: Better Data, Better Use forum at the Brookings Institute last week, then you already realize that aid transparency can be summed up in a four letter word.


International Aid Transparency Initiative
IATI stands for the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a bold undertaking that is in its fifth year and continues to push efforts to publish open data in a standard that allows government agencies to tell their story.

The forum was about promoting the progress that has been made during IATI’s five-year period and to display the 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI), an online index launched jointly by Oxfam America and Publish What You Fund that measures aid transparency from some of the world’s leading aid agencies in the form of a ranking system that demonstrates which organizations are most and least transparent.

The ATI is a colorful chart that displays the name of the donor and their score. Clicking on the chart brings up the donor profile information and its relevance to IATI. There is specific detail about the scoring, which contains data about what the donor has made available and its score there as well. Users can filter their searches by organization size, type, or initiative. This is all available online, and can be accessed by anyone for free.

Information published on a quarterly basis in extensible markup language (XML) format, is machine-readable and according to David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director of Publish What You Fund, the best format because it is the “only format that is both comparable and accessible.”

Hall-Matthews, who gave a rousing address about the importance and push for agencies to become more transparent, talked about a data revolution, clearly excited about the potential and commitment many of the groups are making to publish useful data on aid activities.

And the Highest Ranking Aid Transparency Agency is…
He also had the pleasure of announcing the top ranked agency so far, which happens to be the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. based foreign aid agency that since 2004, has been providing assistance in the fight against global poverty. According to Publish What You Fund, which ranked 67 donor organizations, MCC, scored 88.9% overall, narrowly beating organizations like GAVI AllianceDepartment for International Development, and United Nations Development Program which also scored high marks. The scoring was based on organizations that are providing “large amounts of accessible, timely, comparable, and comprehensive information about their aid”.

This information is useful to people like Hector Corrales, Director of International Cooperation at the Republic of Honduras’ Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, who made a compelling case when he talked about mutual accountability; a coming together of donors and countries, and the need for the data to be published quarterly so that it could create a friendly competition among the agencies while also reminding them about the areas that need to be improved.

Honduras, an active member of IATI, recently launched an aid management platform, which contains information on all aid activity, including government data. Mr. Corrales praised IATI for its efforts while indicating it was imperative for the “long term transformation of development actors in the field”. After all, in order to be really effective and impactful, having good, searchable, timely, comprehensive data is not only important, it’s vital. He was pleased to announce that Honduras is committed to IATI and its standard.

Aid Transparency Advice and Best Practices
There was also a panel on transparency that featured a list of high-profile aid agencies that are involved in everything from capacity building, development planning, economic growth, political reform to budget and policy. The panel, moderated by Tessie San Martin, President and CEO of Plan USA, included Caroline Anstey, Managing Director of World Bank; Tony Pipa, Deputy Assistant for the U.S. Agency for International Development; Robert Goldberg, Director, Office of U.S. and Foreign Assistance Resources, U.S. Department of State; the aforementioned Hector Corrales; and Sheila Herrling, V.P., Department of Policy and Evaluation, Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Herrling, who was thrilled that MCC climbed from a 9th place ranking to the top of the standings shared how they were able to accomplish the feat along with some best practices:

  1. Declare that you’re going to be transparent and have the political will to be able to overcome fear because you have to be willing to answer questions about your own data and that takes time.
  2. MCC uses data to make decisions on everything so the realization they could not access their own data, coupled with a push from external audiences asking for better data made their decision to publish better information an easy one.
  3. The learning that can be made possible by the volume of data that can be shared in the information space is an important element.

Most of the guests on the panel shared their best practice of having a good group of technical and policy teams working together and agreed that political will and the hunger to see transparency of aid data improve are all important aspects of keeping this movement alive and growing.

To sum this all up in the words of the Senior Fellow of Brookings and the introductory speaker, George Ingram, “This is a small but important element in the data revolution.”

Yinebon Iniya is manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center.

New Resource: Smart Chart 3.0

smartchartA new resource has been added to the GrantCraft knowledge center! Smart Chart 3.0® is a planning tool, designed by Spitfire Strategies, to aid nonprofits in developing strategic communications plans. The tool is also useful for funders in developing their own communications strategies and in their collaboration with grantees. Smart Chart is particularly useful for project managers without a formal communications background, and in completing its step-by-step approach, users will come away with a focused communications strategy for their organization, initiative, or campaign.

Smart Chart takes users through six major strategic decision sections. The process challenges participants to think critically and concretely about their organization’s decision-making process, the context the program is operating in, and the intended target audience. Once those aspects are defined, the communications strategy begins to come together as participants develop a timeline and budget and define measures of success before testing the strategy in the final step. This resource is the organizational workbook to fill out, and the interactive format is available at www.smartchart.org.

Smart Chart was originally featured by GrantCraft in its Communicating for Impact  guide. Communicating for Impact provides further resources for funders interested in leveraging their communications strategy towards effective grantmaking.

The GrantCraft knowledge center is powered by IssueLab, a service of the Foundation Center. IssueLab serves as an online repository for knowledge on the social sector, providing thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs addressing some of the world’s most pressing social problems. And, like, GrantCraft, it’s free.


Editors Note: This post was written by Davis Winslow, a new intern with GrantCraft at the Foundation Center. Please join me in welcoming Davis to our team!

5 Questions for…Rise Wilson, Director of Philanthropy, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

By Mitch Nauffts
New York, NY

This blog was re-posted with permission from Philanthropy News Digest

Recently, PND chatted by e-mail with Rise Wilson, who joined the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation as its first director of philanthropy in August, about the foundation’s SEED program, which provides unrestricted operating capital to “boundary-pushing” arts organizations in their earliest stages, allowing them to build the capacity and programming.

Philanthropy News Digest: You and your colleagues have just announced a second round of SEED grants — $30,000 in unrestricted operating capital to start-up arts organizations around the country. Why start-up organizations?

Rise Wilson: Before I speak to the choice to focus on start-ups, I should clarify that these particular early stage organizations were selected because they were choosing different operating models, pushing the boundaries of their medium, working in an interdisciplinary way, or in some other fashion “nurturing the new.” Nominators were encouraged to identify organizations who were exemplary in their efforts to experiment, take risks, and support emerging artists. So the program is not just about start-ups for start-ups’ sake but the importance of investing in new and untested models.

What we know from the legacy of our founder, Robert Rauschenberg, who invested in artists at the earliest stages of their careers, is how catalyzing this kind of support can be. Early investment validates that artists — and, in the case of the SEED program, organizations – are on the right path. It shores up their financial and logistical capacity to pursue their vision, and it can provide more space to test out ideas — rather than choosing the safest, most “fund-able” projects to develop.

There is a marked absence of risk capital in arts and culture. Traditional philanthropy still seems to be operating with the tacit expectation that organizations should have at least three years of bootstrapping before receiving institutional support. Though there is wisdom in assessing a potential grantee’s capacity to carry out its vision, there are a great many flaws in this metric of grant-worthiness. The ability to bootstrap is often tied to access to wealth, which is not evenly distributed — geographically, demographically, or culturally. So there is a justice component that is available in the decision to invest in early stage work. To be clear, this justice element was not a core feature in the design of the SEED program, but it’s available — and in my new post at the foundation, it’s one I plan to underline.

So there is a justice component, and on a really basic and fundamental level, there is the the fact that we need to figure out how to fund good ideas. Our sector is literally filled with creative thinkers. We are in the business of creativity and creative problem-solving, yet early stage funding is so tenuous it can kill great ideas, through neglect, before they’ve had a chance to take root. How do you prototype and pilot when funds are only available to proven, tested programs? We have an opportunity to apply lessons and strategies from the social-enterprise sector and impact philanthropy — to encourage innovation, which by its nature often involves untested ideas, uncertain models, and starting from scratch.

As a foundation, risk-taking is one of our core values, so it is not only the kind of work we support but the way we approach our own. We want to remove barriers for creative thinkers to do good work, even when that means they are new, working with a fiscal sponsor, or have selected a for-profit structure as a way to advance their creative endeavors.

Read the full blog post on PhilanTopic here

Connect with us!

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There’s a lot in store for GrantCraft this year, and we want you to be a part of it!

Our website will be getting a makeover this summer, and we’ll be offering many more ways for funders to share and benefit from one another’s wisdom. Make sure you’re tuned in to our latest updates about our free and unique knowledge platform for the philanthropic sector.

Connect with all things GrantCraft by staying in touch on Twitter, registering and subscribing to our email updates, or signing up to receive our blog in your inbox. Also, don’t forget that we’re a service of the Foundation Center, so you can check out other related content on foundationcenter.org.

Coming in Q4 2014: .ngo and .ong, finally.

Nancy_Gofus (2)By Nancy Gofus
Washington, D.C.

What are .ngo and .ong?

.ngo stands for .Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), and .ong is the translated equivalent for regions of the world that speak romance languages (i.e. Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese). These are new domains coming soon exclusively for NGOs all over the world!

If this video does not display please click here.

Why are these domains launching?

Historically, many of the world’s NGOs and nonprofits have utilized the .org domain to carry out their missions and achieve their goals. While .org has and continues to be a trusted online space, it’s open for anyone to register; contrary to the popular misconception that .org is closed, you do not have to be a nonprofit to operate your own .org domain name.

Read the rest of this entry »