Archive for September 21, 2011

“Give $mart” authors Tom Tierney and Joel Fleishman at Stanford

Bottom Line:  Tierney and Fleishman have a ton of experience and have written a good book aimed at foundations and philanthropists.  They advise people concentrate their giving on “fewer/bigger/longer” projects and proactively go out to seek world-class organizations that are already working effectively in the area of interest.

The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS Center) hosted a talk last Thursday night by Tom Tierney and Joel Fleishman, the authors of Give $mart. Bill Meehan moderated.

The book centers around 6 questions:

  1. What Are My Values and Beliefs?
  2. What Is “Success” and How Can It Be Achieved?
  3. What Am I Accountable For?
  4. What Will It Take to Get the Job Done?
  5. How Do I Work with Grantees?
  6. Am I Getting Better?
This approach (starting with values, tracking metrics, and looking for continual improvement) resonates with me and the approach that I outline in Giving Back.
There were some interesting stats quoted:
  • The Non-profit sector in the US is about $300B, or 2.2% of GDP, #1 world-wide.  Runner-up UK accounts for only 0.8% of GDP.
  • The Boomer generation will be passing some $40 trillion on to successive generations, as much as $6 Trillion of it might go to non-profits.

The Emergence of Venture Philanthropy

They made the controversial assertion that “Philanthropy’s natural state is underperformance.”  Saying that it does good, but could do more if attention were paid to how to give money.  Tierney noted that the mid-90’s marked an inflection point for not-for-profits.  Since then, a language for social change has emerged (“social return on investment, social entrepreneur”), and we’re seeing a talent transfer with business people like Omidyar, Gates, and the Bridgespan partners leaving their business roots to focus on working in philanthropy (but bringing their business point-of-view and skill set).   There’s also a whole new level of information transfer with Stanford Social Impact Review (the new “journal of record” for the non-profit space, according to Fleishman) and papers and case studies published by Bridgespan–with this much shared learning, there are bound to be fast changes in the space.
  The authors noted a change in funding strategies where historically, most foundations have been set up to last “in perpetuity”, while more of the current generation philanthropists are creating “spend down” foundations, so they will see the results in their lifetimes, or the money will be spent within the next generation.  It gives the foundation management a different mindset if they don’t have to preserve the institution forever.

Andrew Carnegie, the Original Engaged Philanthropist

Fleishman described Andrew Carnegie as the prototype of an engaged philanthropist:  At age 36, Carnegie said that he would devote the rest of his life to giving away what he had earned.  His innovations included the creation of TIAA-CREF (to provide pensions for educators) as well as the first Challenge Grants (offering to fund the building for a  library if the town would pay its ongoing operating cost and buy the books.  He constructed 2500 libraries on those terms.)  He also worked to bring world leaders together to avert World War I, and created the Carnegie Institute (later part of CMU.)

Silicon Valley vs. East Coast Philanthropy

Asked about the differences between Silicon Valley philanthropy compared to the traditional power centers on the East Coast, the authors noted that there is more of an orientation to experimentation here “Let’s try it and see what happens,” with a willingness to experiment outside the conventional boundaries.

“Overhead” as viewed by Business and Non-Profit Leaders

They pointed out an interesting difference between the for-profit and the not-for-profit world.  Businesses proudly proclaim “Our people are our most important asset.” and payroll is commonly 25% of costs.  But when those same business leaders shift over to the non-profit space, that “most important asset” suddenly becomes “overhead” and is squeezed to 12-15%.

Advice for Your Philanthropy

Tierney and Fleishman strongly encouraged philanthropists to be “not merely giving your money–giving yourself, your time.  Put your life into it!”  “If you don’t the things you really care about, you’ll just give money–not time, not get your friends involved.”  These personal connections with causes are the “anchors” that keep you going and prevent you from just being adrift.

A personal thanks….

Tom and Joel were signing books at the event, and I was really impressed that they not only took the time to sign them, but listened to me as I explained my interest in their work, and personalized the dedication, offering their best wishes for the success of Giving Back!  

One World Children’s Fund Fellows Presentations

Bottom Line:  Innovative non-profits, like OWCF, seek to try new things, empower people and get out of the way to let them get things done.  OWCF’s inaugural group of “fellows” was an effective way for the organization to jump start some important projects, while providing valuable training to a new generation interested in learning the ropes in the non-profit world.

[And, we’re back…  The lack of posts over the last 3 weeks was a result of my moving.  It’s remarkable how much time and energy it takes to find a new place to live, pack up, get boxes from one place to another, and unpack them.  I’m not done yet, but far enough along that I can get back to blogging….]

I currently serve on the board of the Palo Alto Congregational Foundation, a small grant-making foundation that supports projects and organizations in the Palo Alto, CA area.  We typically make 5 – 8 grants per year, totaling about $20,000.   We do accept unsolicited proposals, though we give preference to those organizations that have a tie to First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, either through financial support from the Outreach Board or church members who serve as volunteers or employees.  We do not support operating expenses, preferring to provide either seed funding for new programs or capital expenses.  Contact me for more information about the application process.

One of our recent grants was to One World Children’s Fund to start a summer fellowship program.  Yesterday, the three fellows presented what they had done in their part-time, three-month, unpaid fellowships.  I have to admit that I was late, and missed the first 45 minutes of the presentations, but from what I did see, the fellows tackled some of the marketing challenges that OWCF faces, specifically:

  1. Creating an “Elevator Pitch” with talking points to describe the OWCF model:  “One World Children’s Fund is a non-profit that supports community-based organizations serving children around the world.  We are unique because volunteers approach us with organizations they wish to raise funds for.  Once selected, these volunteers are provided tools and training for fundraising.  100% of the money they raise goes directly towards supporting children.  Fundraising isn’t the only way to get involved with One World.  People come to us from all walks of life to make a difference in the lives of children, and so can you!”
  2. Improving Donor Stewardship.  It sounded like the main initiative there was publishing donor stories, which is a start.
  3. Using online video to tell the story.  One of the fellows created a storyboard for a 2 minute animated short that describes OWCF’s champion model.  She also found an animation studio who agreed to produce it pro bono.
  4. Making sure web content is available to a global audience.  Another fellow set up a process to create a volunteer community of translators who could ensure that the content of OWCF’s is available in other languages.
Several members of OWCF’s board were in the audience, and they seemed to also appreciate the contributions of the fellows.  I had a chance to speak with the fellows afterward, and was impressed.  These women had strong academic and work backgrounds, but needed the practical non-profit experience to make the desired transition into non-profit management as a career.  They were happy with the autonomy and responsibility that OWCF had given them, and OWCF had also lined up a series of weekly speakers talking about their areas of non-profit specialty.  In a testament to the value of the program, one of the fellows learned about the fellowship from and applied from Hong Kong, enduring a three-month separation from her newly-wedded husband to participate in the fellowship.
In summary, I was impressed that OWCF put together a quality fellowship program (run entirely by volunteers) and believe that it had the desired win-win outcome of providing value to both OWCF and the fellows.  I hope that the longer term benefits of improved messaging, donor stewardship, and website reach will result in more projects helping more children under the OWCF umbrella.