We all can’t be experts in every field—but we can communicate in ways that makes our intentions clear. Let’s say you hear that a foundation is interested in the same issue your work is addressing: girls’ education. But girls’ education could refer to subsidizing pre-kindergarten in the U.S., awarding college scholarships for young African women, researching improved STEM education, or any number of other programs. The trick to understanding a foundation’s goals is to get down to the specifics, without getting lost in a morass of jargon or hours of research.
In late 2008, our Board agreed to prioritize unrestricted, multi-year core operating support. Core support funding, also known as general operating support, has now become the predominant focus of the Weingart Foundation’s grant program. Since 2009, the Foundation has made over $60 million in core support grants, primarily to human service organizations.
This was a big decision for a foundation that was probably best known for its support of capital projects and new program development. As a responsive grantmaker, however, our Board’s adoption of core support was both an appropriate response to the needs of our grantees in the midst of the U.S. financial crisis, and a natural evolution in our grantmaking process.
Core support is aligned with the Core Values and Grant Practices of our foundation. We are a responsive grantmaker that has deep respect for the work of our grantees. We are also a “learning organization” that regularly engages in an ongoing process of listening to our customers – our nonprofit partners - and then responding to their needs so that they may sustain effective programs and build both capacity and sustainability.
Our grantmaking practice has convinced us that core support funding provides nonprofit organizations with the working capital necessary to sustain day-to-day operations and to build a well-managed and fully operational infrastructure. Since most private and government funding is restricted to programs and services, many organizations are financially starved to the point of being unable to maintain and strengthen their infrastructure. Now, $60 million later, we remain committed to the proposition that when combined with effective leadership and management, providing unrestricted multi-year core operating support is one of the best ways to build nonprofit capacity and sustainability.
What have we learned that might be helpful for funders considering adopting a general operating support strategy?
GrantCraft will be releasing Lucy Bernholz’s Blueprint 2014 in December, which is the forecast of the social economy for the year ahead. This post shares some of EPIP’s ideas for Doing Good.
By Emily Kessler
New York, NY
With support from Blue Shield of California Foundation, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) is pleased to announce the launch of Doing Good in the 21st Century, a joint exploration with La Piana Consulting that began at the 2013 EPIP National Conference in Chicago earlier this year. Many emerging and established leaders participated in the workshop, and their thoughts have been captured in video recordings and a published report, “Voices from the Field”. Together, we asked the question: “How must the social sector adapt to succeed in meeting 21st Century challenges and opportunities?” The answers are compelling and inspiring.
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We encourage you to check out both of these reads on our new and improved resources to improve practice page, and tell us your thoughts! Do these resources increase your understanding of impact investing programs and spend down strategies? Will they help you to hone your craft?
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By Jackie Fishman New York, NY
Several recent studies have documented the importance of “making an impact” to younger donors. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report, for example, tells us that millennials “want their contributions, no matter the type or amount, to help achieve tangible results for a cause.” One of the key findings from Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy is that the next generation wants to use “any necessary strategies, assets, and tools – new or old – for greater impact.” And as the Connected to Give study of American Jewish Philanthropy points out, younger givers “are much more likely to have made a contribution using an innovative giving method such as via mobile phone text message, crowdfunding website, giving circle, microloan fund, or voting in an online competition…” While the desire for impact is one that donors share across the generations, the studies do bring to light the important role that these new philanthropic models can play in enabling younger givers to have greater impact by engaging them and their networks in active, thoughtful philanthropy.
The Foundation Center today released its 2013 edition of Key Facts on U.S. Foundations. The report shares data, trends, and insights on the foundation landscape, types of giving, issue focus areas, and geographic impact.
Below is one slice of the data: foundation giving by issue focus. Read more in the full report. Have an interesting observation? Leave it in the comments.
As we work to develop our new GrantCraft website (expected release in 2014), Rosien and I are carefully considering the different audiences that GrantCraft attracts: grants managers, program officers, and executives; board members; beginners and seasoned philanthropy veterans; nonprofit grant seekers and program staff; consultants; students and professors. Each has different curiosities and experiences to draw on, and we hope to provide clearer guidance on resources appropriate for each set of interests as GrantCraft grows. Let us know if you have specific thoughts on how content could be more catered to your interests; we’re all ears.
Meanwhile, here’s a blog post that I shared with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy on how newer funders can best navigate our GrantCraft resources. Give it a read if it applies to you, or pass it along to a new staff member at your foundation.
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By Sam Utne Brooklyn, NY
When I think of philanthropy, I think of leveraging one’s assets to promote a higher ideal of a better, more loving, more sustainable world. Since childhood, my parents always stressed, that the practice of philanthropy goes way beyond money. This is something I continue to believe today and have incorporated into my own charitable strategies.
One thing money is really good for, however, is discovering our values. Giving helps us articulate our core beliefs. There are a lot of great causes out there and almost all of them deserve much more money than they are getting. Money forces us to choose which issues we want to focus on and that is a very important first step. We research, understand the issues, and choose where we want our money to go.
Once we know where we want to focus, we can do more. Money certainly isn’t everything and in the world of change, it’s only one small tool in a vast toolbox. To increase the impact of our philanthropy, we look at the rest of our lives. Start by putting your money where your mouth is, then walk the talk too. Leveraging our purchasing power, aligning our investment portfolios, and talking to our friends are all great ways of deepening the impact we can have on the issues we care about most.
My parents were my greatest mentors. They taught me the meaning of philanthropy through their active involvement in so many causes. Creating initiatives to address social, cultural and community needs now, and facilitating positive change for the future, were and remain guiding principles.
Those principles became the foundation for The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), which my late wife, Andy, and I established in 1985. All along, we believed in creating programs with long-lasting effect and which could and would make a real difference in the world.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after doing our homework about perpetual foundations, Andy; Jeff Solomon, the president of our foundation; and I decided that ACBP should fulfill its mandate by 2016. While several other foundations had chosen this course, our decision was privy only to us. But as more foundations chose to be time-limited, we decided to go public in 2008.
In an open letter to the philanthropic community three years later, Jeff Solomon and I announced that we would spend down ACBP by 2016.
That’s not news anymore. What is, though, is the transparency we vowed to establish around the spend-down process, a conscious effort to share our experiences – expected and not, good and bad – on the way to 2016.
This post is the first in a series – to be penned by executives within ACBP, and beyond – where that transparency is on display and, we hope, informs a significant degree of peer learning within the broader community.
Our expectation is that the series will invite much commentary and become a repository of diverse perspectives, creating a continuum of thought and observation and a sustained philanthropic dialogue on spend-down issues – a platform that does not yet exist.
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Coverage of time-limited foundations, or any examination of related issues, is nonexistent, at worst, and sporadic, at best. So my ACBP colleagues and I want to help fill the void.
Since we announced ACBP’s 2016 closure, we’ve been asked whether, by being so public about this process and committing to a high level of transparency, we’re advocating for other foundations and philanthropic entities to similarly declare “mission over” and exit the stage.
There isn’t any one correct course or lifespan for a philanthropic foundation. Personal and family considerations will lead to different conclusions about any foundation’s ideal lifespan. I would only encourage that this needs to be a discussion among donors and their families rather than a default in legal filings.
So rather than advocating for one course or the other, we are, by example and open discussion here and elsewhere, putting time limiting out there within the range of available and serious options for any foundation that is nearing a turning point, defined generationally, financially, and/or in terms of mission.
The ACBP turning point is multi-dimensional and driven in part by my children’s desire to continue and define their own philanthropic journeys, informed by their own passions and energy, just as my generation of Bronfmans did following the fine example set by my parents.
While my children and their spouses are equally committed to doing social and community good through philanthropy, their priorities and areas of interest certainly may differ from my own, and ACBP’s, as they rightly should. Times change, and so do needs.
To a large extent, ACBP will, by 2016, be able to point to a variety of markers underscoring that, over its 31 years of grantmaking, it accomplished what it set out to do in Canada, Israel, the United States, and elsewhere.
I wouldn’t gauge this in dollars. I’d look at real effect, measurable results, and the transformative value of the programs we initiated and the organizations we supported. Our professional colleagues who have had major responsibility for our programs’ successes will, we well know, continue as social entrepreneurs and philanthropic leaders in the future.
For sure, needs addressed by these programs and initiatives may remain, in whatever form, after ACBP exits. We are committed to sustainability models to ensure that our grantees can adjust to an altered state of philanthropic and managerial support.
And come 2016, I’m not going anywhere. My philanthropic activities will continue, albeit without the formal structure and overhead of ACBP.
Yes, we believe that our journey has been unique. But there are enough commonalities between us and many other fine foundations that we believe, and hope, that an analysis of our path will be meaningful. And that we will have created a compelling case study and lasting body of knowledge as we approach 2016.
This is the first 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 using #spenddown. You can learn more about this project on the GrantCraft web site.
Collaboration is all the rage for foundations these days. Interest in funder collaboration is exploding. The benefits, including the much-desired ‘financial leverage’, are tantalising. Grantcraft’s own publication Funder Collaboratives: why and how funders work together provides an excellent overview of the topic. It reinforces other studies which suggest that, given the scale and social complexity of the development challenges today, funders will increasingly realise the limitations of working in isolation and look to collaborate with each other.
But at present, foundations’ interest in collaboration still appears to be more theoretical than applied. In reality, most remain deeply ambivalent. They find that a collaborative approach challenges traditional ways of working, and therefore, they steer away. Indeed there are already ‘heretics’, like Craig Dearden-Phillips of the Stepping Out Foundation, who are challenging the emerging orthodoxy. Writing in Third Sector he provocatively asks: “Why do we all dance to the discordant tune of collaboration? In the third sector we are far too eager to collaborate…slaves to an orthodoxy that collaboration always leads to better outcomes… Joint working goes against the grain.”