Grantcraft

Blueprint 2018 – Predictions

Content Type: Blog Posts

The year that’s passed turned out to be quite a ride for philanthropy both big and small. Billions in new philanthropic dollars from a handful of donors at one end of the spectrum, plus billions more in crowdfunding across the globe. Regulatory provocations on dark money and charity. Global migration and natural disasters provide ample opportunity for civil society and philanthropy to take action. What’s in store for the year ahead? Here are a few predictions for 2018 – the full list is available in Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2018.

Global

  • FinTech (financial technology) will be a shiny new interest area for philanthropy in 2018.
  • Voice-activated giving (“Alexa, donate $10 to the Community Disaster Fund”) will make headlines.
  • The European Union will become the global standard bearer for digital privacy policy. Nonprofits everywhere will examine their privacy practices to abide by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

United States

  • Transparency advocates will demand regulation of political advertising on the Web and social media networks. They won’t get it.
  • Tech companies will increase their philanthropy and political giving as their reputations suffer.
  • Team communications tools that are slowly replacing internal corporate e-mail will be hacked, drawing as much attention as e-mail dumps did in 2016.

2018 Wild Cards (Surprising, unlikely things that just might happen)

  • Britain won’t Brexit.
  • The rate of growth in global carbon production will slow significantly.
  • Countries will begin competing to take in and take care of millions of refugees. 

Editor’s Note: We were delighted to partner with Lucy on publishing the Blueprint for the past several years, and are still avid followers of her predictions! Explore past editions on GrantCraft here.

Lucy Bernholz is a Senior Research Scholar at Stanford PACS and Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab. She is the author of Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2018, the ninth annual forecast.

Lucy Bernholz has been working in, consulting to, and writing about philanthropy and the social economy since 1990. The Huffington Post calls her a "philanthropy game changer" and Fast Company magazine named her blog Philanthropy2173 "Best in Class." She is a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Lucy earned a B.A. from Yale University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. On Twitter she's known as @p2173 and she posts most of her articles, speeches, and presentations online at www.lucybernholz.com where you can also find her blog, Twitter feed, and books.

Bridges & Batons: How Loans Can Keep Impact on Track in the Social Sector

Content Type: Blog Posts

While microfinance did not turn out to be the silver bullet to end poverty as some projected a decade ago, it has proven itself to be an invaluable tool for the working poor. The poor are more vulnerable to unexpected, external shocks — a death in the family, an extreme weather event, social unrest, or a public health crisis. Before microfinance, when those shocks occurred, often poor families would not have enough cash on hand to pay for the funeral or rebuild the house after a disaster. Instead, the working poor with no safety net would spend through their hard-earned savings or go into debt with a local money lender, dropping down to what is called the ultra poor (broadly understood as those living on less than $1.25/day). Microfinance changed this. Through microfinance banks like Grameen, families can access a microfinance loan, spending the needed cash in the moment and stay on track.  In short, they have a safety net.

This is how I think of social enterprises — they are the working poor of the business world. They do not typically have access to the financial services a traditional company does. Banks don't understand their business model and they usually require collateral, such as liens on property, that social enterprises don't have. In emerging markets, banks will offer loans at high interest rates that the organization can't afford to pay. At Open Road Alliance, we've seen that one external shock — whether it be a local partner pulling out, a currency devaluation, or a delayed disbursement — puts these organizations at risk of failure. A management team can make all the right decisions, but the world is unpredictable. For a company without a safety net, an external shock can throw their business targets and social impact permanently off track.

These realities are true, if not more acute, for nonprofit organizations.

Building organizational resiliency as a social organization — whether a traditional nonprofit organization or social enterprise — is difficult. All the money earned or raised is reinvested into a social organization’s growth or programs. As funders, we can recommend the organization build three or six month operating reserves, but the fact of the matter is that the trade-offs to do so are often too great. If the choice is between making payroll or putting some funds aside for a rainy day, a leader will likely pick their employees every time.

In the absence of bank lines of credit or internal reserves, these social organizations are left with few options. It is not news that working capital is a huge need for the social sector, but few funders have stepped in to lend small amounts (under $500k) to small and medium-sized organizations (often smaller than $1M/year in revenue). Our hypothesis was that if these organizations had access to a working capital loan, they'd be able to withstand and overcome unexpected roadblocks.

In February 2017, Open Road incorporated its own loan fund, Open Road Ventures LLC, to solve this gap in the market. As of early December, we have approved 15 loans totaling $4.1 million – and we are planning to more than double that in 2018. While we're only 12 months into this loan fund experiment, demand has proven to be strong.

Open Road's average time from initial conversation to approval is between three and four weeks. In August, we made our fastest loan ever — just seven days. Our target borrower is a growing social enterprise (nonprofit or for-profit) that runs into an unexpected, external roadblock. When there is an emergency funding gap, we can respond quickly to solve the problem. From our perspective, we aren't even taking on that much risk. Many unexpected roadblocks don't actually take that long to solve. Open Road Venture's average loan term is around 12 months. Often, we are providing "bridges to somewhere;" for example, the organization's roadblock is a timing issue. Funding is forthcoming, but bills need to be paid today. When the promised funding comes in, Open Road is repaid. For Open Road, this is an example of "impact arbitrage." We're able to step in with a bridge loan, take little risk, and capture all of the impact upside, by ensuring the organization stays on its existing trajectory.

Although we do charge interest on our loans, Open Road is at its core a philanthropic initiative. We are seeking to maximize impact, not financial return. At Open Road, we believe the majority of the benefit should go to the investee. Our average interest rate is 3.5%, with rates maxing out at 7% for loans. We believe this better aligns us with the investee — our funding is here to get the organization out of a jam, to keep its growth and therefore impact on track. This also helps with our repayment prospects — as we only offer unsecured loans, we rely on the integrity and commitment of the founder or management team. The organization's impact is our number one priority.

For us, Open Road Ventures is an experiment. By providing one-time bridge loans to nonprofits and social enterprises, our goal is to demonstrate that these organizations are creditworthy — and that our loan fund can sustainably recycle capital to solve for future roadblocks.

We like to think of impact investing as a relay race: funders pass social enterprises, like batons, off to the next funder in the value chain as social enterprises grow in scale. However, right now, the impact investing “track” is littered with dropped batons. There are far too many instances in which an otherwise successful social enterprise doesn’t receive funding quickly enough to maintain growth and impact. Funders fumble, the baton is dropped. The goal for Open Road Ventures is to keep those batons in the air, long enough for another funder to come in for the hand-off. While Open Road’s bridge funding can buy a social enterprise important time to continue growing their impact and bringing in investors, we have to pass the baton to someone. There is a looming crisis of working capital that is suffocating growth and slowing the maturation of the social sector. We hope other funders will join us in providing working capital loans to these organizations. If banks think these companies are too risky, it is our role as philanthropic funders to step in and prove them wrong.

This article is the third in a four-part series sharing what Open Road Alliance has learned about risk management in philanthropy and how the organization has evolved over the past five years to better address the need for fast, flexible contingency funding in the sector. This series will include findings from Open Road’s research and practical guidance on best practices for managing risk in order to maximize impact in philanthropy.

 Caroline Bressan is Director of Social Investments at Open Road Alliance, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Three Truths After Five Years on the Foundation Side

Content Type: Blog Posts

I began my career in philanthropy as many do — working for nonprofits. Specifically, I was a fundraiser. I’ve done everything from cold-calling lists of alumni asking for donations, to being the primary grant writer for a national nonprofit. I’ve been the equivalent of a major gifts officer where I cultivated high net-worth donors and orchestrated over-the-top fundraising events like celebrity poker tournaments. During my years on the fundraising side of the table, I learned that social problems are more complex and interconnected than we think. Solving these problems often follows a trajectory of two steps forward and one step back — and that’s a best-case scenario. I also learned that “the donor is always right.” And in grappling with this last truth, I learned what all nonprofits learn — how to stretch a dollar, how to roll (i.e., hide) administrative and payroll expenses in ‘direct’ or ‘program’ costs, and how to spin a lukewarm result into “lessons learned that will generate even more impact in the next grant cycle.”

Then, I moved to the other side of the table. Now, I’ve been working as a foundation executive for five years and there are some uncomfortable truths that I’ve learned here as well. These are three things that I find myself saying every week, over and over:

1. The world isn’t predictable (i.e. SH#T Happens)

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Send out RFP, review and vet applications, pick grant recipient, send out check, wait, read report, celebrate impact. This standard grantmaking process is not inherently bad, but it does assume that whatever was written in the application is exactly what will happen. It is a linear transaction, assuming predictability. I give you money, and you give me the promised impact.

But the world is not predictable, and it is particularly unpredictable in rural Kenya, with gang members in Detroit, or with new technologies used by farmers in Bolivia. While this seems like an obvious truth, it’s one that most philanthropic funders ignore. How do we know? Research shows that 76% of funders don’t even ask in their grant application about what could go wrong to disrupt a project. Apparently, they are not worried.

However, they should be. Many projects, even of well-established nonprofits and programs, are just one “oh my gosh” moment away from significant, impact-killing shortfalls. These moments are not all earthquakes and hurricanes. More often than not, they are similar to one of these:

  • The general contractor building a nonprofit hospital has a nervous breakdown and flees the country.
  • Currency demonetization cuts the value of your grant by 30%.
  • A program officer goes out on maternity leave before signing the grant agreement inadvertently causing a three-month delay in delivering funds.
  • The CEO of a grantee contracts dengue fever for the second time and can no longer live in the country.
  • A national bank is suddenly embroiled in an embezzlement and corruption scandal. All accounts are frozen and a grantee can’t access their cash.
  • A misclassification of a grantee's recycling business moves it to ‘junk business’ status, causing the insurance bill to triple overnight. It takes months to resolve, during which the grantee can’t operate.

All of these are real-life scenarios from Open Road’s portfolio over the past five years — a portfolio with 100 additional examples of “roadblocks hitting the fan.” In every case, the roadblock threatened the viability of the project — and sometimes the organization as a whole.

No matter what their sector, geography, annual budget, or other variable, your grantees are not immune to unpredictability. It’s real, it matters, and left unaddressed, it affects impact.

2. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar

When a dollar moves from your wallet to a corporate bank to a foundation endowment to a nonprofit’s checking account, there’s no magical transformation. It doesn’t change color, or become more rigid and stiff. You can still fold it and stuff it in your pocket. That dollar also doesn’t lose its purchasing power from the corporate bank to the nonprofit account. Staples will still accept that dollar to buy pencils, computers, or even “word of the day” desk calendars. A dollar that is used to support a loan, a working line of credit, or a cash reserve fund in its corporate account can still do those things in a nonprofit account.

Yet, “nonprofit dollars” are treated very differently than any other dollar in circulation. We treat the dollars in nonprofit accounts as if they can’t do the same thing as the dollars in our own business accounts. Why? Because we say so. We tell nonprofits that their dollar is different — it’s restricted. “You can’t spend that on salaries or rent,” we say. "You can’t use that dollar to take out a loan or working line of credit.” And because of inherent power-dynamics and the pressing need for funds, nonprofits accept these artificial restrictions turning their dollars into rigid coupons instead of the flexible currency it actually is.

Moreover, just as a dollar doesn’t lose its purchasing power when transferred from the foundation to the nonprofit, it also doesn’t gain anything either. It can’t do anything more than it does in a corporate bank account. If one dollar buys ten pencils for a for-profit business, then it buys ten pencils for a nonprofit. That dollar doesn’t magically buy 20 pencils, just because it’s coming from a nonprofit account. And yet, this is an implicit assumption. Just as you’d never expect to attract top-talent in New York City at $30,000 a year, you shouldn’t expect nonprofits to do so either,  just because they are nonprofits.

For too long in philanthropy, we have ignored the financial needs of running a business — including non-profitable businesses. Needs such as cash reserves, access to working capital, and R&D budgets that fuel growth and enable continuous improvement. Instead, we have become so accustomed to the artificial restrictions we set up under the guise of accountability or impact measurement, that we start to believe that a nonprofit dollar is materially different from a corporate one. I’ve had many a funder and nonprofit tell me that grantees “can’t” take out a loan, as if their dollars are actually incapable of supporting such a normal business financing product. But in 2017 alone, Open Road loaned nearly $5 million in working capital and bridge loans to nonprofits and social enterprises.

A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. Its properties and abilities neither expand nor contract when it enters a nonprofit’s bank account. And yes, a dollar can only be used for one thing at a time. A dollar spent on pens cannot also be spent on salaries. But that is the result of choices, not limitations of the dollar itself. So, if we are to leverage every dollar for impact to its maximum use, let a dollar be a dollar and then make choices about how to use it.

3. It’s not written in stone

Nowhere in the laws of man or nature does it say, “Thou shalt approve grant dockets only once a year” Or, “The full Board is required to approve additional disbursements” or “Thou must complete an evaluation report before additional funds may be disbursed or grant renewals approved.”

Yet, whatever our current grantmaking procedures, we often treat them as inviolable laws. At Open Road, we receive regular referrals from other donors with ten times as many assets as we do who say “I want to help my grantee, but I can’t because… it’s against policy,” or “we don’t have a procedure for that,” or “we don’t have the money,” which typically just means that they didn’t budget for it.

The point is, whatever our bureaucratic procedures may be, they are not, in fact, written in stone. We can change them.

I’m not advocating for no rules or no bureaucracy. As my own staff will attest, I love creating organizational systems, policies, and procedures. Such rules help set expectations, create consistency, and maintain standards. They also — let’s be honest — provide an easy “out” when we don’t want to do something.

But after creating the rule, implementing the system, and training staff on the proper procedure, too many organizations forget that in the beginning, we made it up! At some point in our organization’s history, we made a (possibly arbitrary) choice to do this instead of that. And the great thing about these choices is that they can be amended.

Change is hard. This is true for even the most flexible organizations and often much harder for larger, older, or more institutionalized groups. So, changing your grant cycles to better meet grantee cash-flows, or changing your budgeting procedures to include contingency funds, or changing your communication policies to be more directly accessible to grantees — all of this may be hard. But we can do it. And if we don’t do these things, that’s a choice too. It’s not “just the way things are.” It’s an active choice and whatever our choice, we should be prepared to own it and its consequences for our grantees.

Lessons learned

No matter what side of the table you sit on, trying to generate positive change in the world is hard. There are no easy answers and few ready-made solutions. However, I have also learned that funders and nonprofits have more in common than we think. Both nonprofits and foundations face the constraints of limited resources and the hard choices of where to allocate finite funds and human capital. Neither of us can achieve our goals without the other. And yet, the have versus have-not mentality of philanthropy, the image of a grantee and a funder sitting on opposite sides of a table haggling over resources in the middle, damages us both. Wouldn’t it be better to sit on the same side of the table, look at our resources and abilities holistically and tackle our shared objectives together? Wouldn’t it be nice to take the lessons learned – the real lessons learned before they get spun into future ‘success’ stories – from both nonprofit and foundation worlds to create a better system? It may be hard and it may be uncomfortable, but I am sure that doing so would generate even greater impact in all of our grant cycles.

This article is the second in a four-part series sharing what Open Road has learned about risk management in philanthropy and how the organization has evolved over the past five years to better address the need for fast, flexible contingency funding in the sector. This series will include findings from Open Road’s research and practical guidance on best practices for managing risk in order to maximize impact in philanthropy.

Maya Winkelstein is Executive Director of Open Road Alliance where she is responsible for the organization’s overall investment strategy including finding new ways to deploy capital to achieve maximum social returns.

GrantCraft Year in Review

Content Type: Blog Posts

Just like that, 2017 is nearly over. It’s been a year of shifting focus for me, though I sense that theme is true for many. In March, I became Foundation Center’s director of stakeholder engagement—a brand new role inspired by how we have connected you with valuable resources here on GrantCraft—which has allowed us to be more thoughtful than ever about empowering you with data and knowledge that matter. I have personally experienced a lot of TMI this year…I simply can’t consume the vast amounts of media and communications that cross my desk every day. Again, I sense that this is a theme that is true for many, and you might have noticed (or not, amid so much other clutter!) that we went on newsletter hiatus over the past several months. So, consider this email a roundup of things not to miss before the end of the year!

 

My five favorite GrantCraft resources we developed in 2017:

  • A series on funder collaboratives focused on advocacy—I love this because especially in America this year, I’ve heard increased desire for collaboration in order to advocate for important causes, and a key indicator of success for collaborative advocacy work is how well stakeholders set themselves up to work together. These pieces offer important insights from real-world experiences. This series was authored by Cynthia Gibson.
  • A case study on saving the vaquita—Before our work on FundingtheOcean.org, I admittedly had never heard of the vaquita, a rare, and endangered porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California. A few googles and an interview later, I was hooked and in love. I started to hear about their near-extinction everywhere, and have been fascinated to follow philanthropic efforts to save the species ever since. This case study was authored by Anna Pond.
  • Frameworks for Private Foundations leadership series paper—While GrantCraft typically focuses its resources on strategic grantmaking and leveraging funders’ roles, it’s really important to acknowledge how the context of each foundation influences practice. The theory offered in this paper gives a framework for reflection, understanding, and iterating on approaches foundations can take in pursuing their missions. This paper was authored by Melissa Berman, Jason Franklin, and Dara Major.
  • Conversation-sparkers from the EDGE Funders conference—I go to a lot of philanthropy conferences, and this was very different. Activist spaces are exciting, chaotic, uncomfortable, questioning, and courageous. It’s a privilege to add our voice and perspective to these conversations in ways that hopefully push the practice of philanthropy forward. These resources were authored by me, Jen Bokoff.
  • Blog series on funding innovation—It’s easy to support ideas that are tried and true, but a little harder to proactively solicit and fund proposals that are truly innovative. This blog series highlights various approaches to finding fundable, innovative solutions. With each post, I was also inspired to think about my own work in more outside-the-box ways. 

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. We had great posts by philanthropy leaders like Shannon Farley, Treye Johnson, Carla López, Mariella Puerto, Pearl Mattenson and Sara Allen, and Ed Cain, and got to present exciting workshops with exciting people. We also amplified and championed our Foundation Center colleagues’ efforts like the global philanthropy data charter, community foundation dashboard, and research on black male achievement to create a more connected sector.

But, as my team is now quick to poke fun of, all of this makes me ask “SO WHAT?” As I have vented to many colleagues and friends, is philanthropy communication perhaps a little too surface-level and self-congratulatory to meaningfully move mountains? And do we feed into redundant discourse and “preaching to the choir” to far too deep an extent? And do new resources sourced from the practical wisdom and experience of funders actually inform and build capacity for sound judgement as I like to think?

Here’s the “so what” for GrantCraft: at truly every funder-centric event I participate in, someone finds me to say how much GrantCraft has influenced the way they think about their work. They point to us as their go-to, trusted resource that helps them feel connected to broader learning and that also validates some of their own instincts. This is heartening; we’re not contributing to information overload, but rather to the positive noise that funders can make in the world. 

Our work with GrantCraft is hopefully emblematic of what we’re doing more broadly at Foundation Center. For example, we kicked off the #OpenForGood campaign to encourage foundations to openly share their evaluation knowledge with IssueLab and Glasspockets this year. In 2018, we’ll take what they’re hearing from the field and publish a new GrantCraft guide on the topic. Other pockets of the organization are working on machine learning, knowledge management, nonprofit training, and website development; we do this to push the potential of this field forward.

Take some time off this December—self care is always important, especially in this work—and when you come back, we hope you’ll start the year off by reading through some of our great resources that you may have missed this year. And, we love hearing from you! Please e-mail anytime, and drop by if you’ll be in New York.

This letter originally appeared in this week's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free

Jen Bokoff is Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Foundation Center, and leads GrantCraft. Shoot her an email any time at jen@foundationcenter.org, or find her on Twitter at @jenbo1 and @grantcraft.

UPS Looks to the Past to Plan Investments for the Future

Content Type: Blog Posts

As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals and those thinking about disaster philanthropy plan for the year ahead, I encourage keeping one eye on the past in planning new strategies and commitments.

As the impacts of severe weather and complex crisis continue to grow, my hope is that more companies and their CSR and/or foundation branch will begin to develop disaster resilience strategies that incorporate mitigation and preparedness initiatives, and reserve additional funding for long-term recovery in addition to their response efforts.

As the Center for Disaster Philanthropy has indicated, most of the money provided for a disaster is given within the first thirty days. And although U.S. corporations are among the most generous in the world, most face extreme pressure from various stakeholders including C-suite executives, employees, and customers to name a few,  to make their commitments quickly, to publicly be the first out of the box, often before the unique needs of a community are identified.

One of the steps that The UPS Foundation has taken in recent years is to develop a broad spectrum of strategic partners and engage in initiatives that focus on preparedness, response, and recovery. When the 2017 hurricanes hit, The UPS Foundation was able to make our financial and in-kind commitments quickly, with specific grants for immediate relief, with one unique difference. We also included commitments to long-term recovery, which will be allocated in the months to come, as the unique needs of communities come to light.

We never lose sight of those long-term needs, shared in news cycles long past but still urgent. For example, while UPS was providing support for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we were also working with Good360.org to transport donated furniture to Baton Rouge, helping more than 100 families return to their homes more than a year after the Louisiana floods of 2016.

In 2018, we will once again award new commitments to our partners, but rest assured many of these will keep one eye on the past, to support recovery efforts in Houston, Florida, and in the Caribbean, through grant, in-kind, and volunteer support efforts until our communities are built back better, and more resilient.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is a tremendous resource, with tools like the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook that can connect corporations and foundations with agencies filling vital long-term needs of families and communities, who are looking to the new year with hope that they won’t be forgotten. 

Joseph Ruiz is the Director of Humanitarian Relief & Resilience Program and Communications at The UPS Foundation.

Stronger Together: An Activist-Funder Dialogue on Resourcing Young Feminist Organizing

Content Type: Blog Posts

In July, 2017, FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund and Mama Cash hosted an activist-funder dialogue on resourcing young feminists at the Center for Social Innovation in New York City. This dialogue offered a space for reflection on the gaps between funders and activists, and the opportunities to cultivate more honest engagements, shared accountability, and build collective power.

The power of honest conversation

We decided to hold this event with three main objectives:

  • to create spaces to explore how to increase accountability in our communities;
  • to think about agreed mechanisms to share honest feedback on what is working and what is not; and
  • to understand the steps we need to take to really trust each other, name power dynamics, and collectively work for solutions.

Taking the time and creating space for activists and funders to be heard, allowed tensions to be held and the people in the room to exchange experience and see synergy in their work.

We began the day hearing from a panel of activists and funders: Akudo Oguaghamba, Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER) Nigeria, Carla Lopez, Central American Women’s Fund, Jody Myrum, Novo and Viva Tatawaqa, diverse voices and action for equality fiji and Resurj. They shared their experiences in from different contexts and ideas on how to cultivate more relationships of trust between funders and activists.

After the panel we spent the rest of the time charting out key themes and good practices, and unpacking power dynamics to open a pathway for meaningful collaboration. Recognising as private funders, as public funders, as activists, as collectives, as International Non Government Organisations, that we all had different spheres of influence and opportunity to take these ideas forward.

Sustainability and survival

Activists in the room talked through the importance of safe spaces, and inclusion of diverse activists, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex people, and for the next generation of teenage activists in feminist organizing in conversations like these. People shared the need to talk about sustainability in its many dimensions (organizational, personal, emotional, physical) and the need for activists and funders to be talking about access to salaries/resources/income and a living wage.

While we found that sustainability and self-care are becoming more of a focus in our work, many activists still feel like there is limited space to discuss topics of what it means to have a living wage. We asked ourselves how accountability and care could be seeded within movements and within the philanthropic field and between them.

Some activists also raised the uncomfortable contradiction they often face in movements, between being autonomous feminist collectives rejecting capitalist models, but still needing basic resources for their work and their survival. As well as talking about the violence or toxicity that sometimes is present in movements. This highlighted the need for space for self-reflection as well as dialogue within feminist movements,to discuss these tensions and to look at the political nature of resources, and explore self-generated income models.

 

Looking inward to really change outward

If we seek to transform power in philanthropy and address the injustices around us, to challenge and rectify the inequity we see, it is necessary to look internally at how our own structures in philanthropy, in development, and in the aid sector, could be reinforcing inequality.

This means asking difficult questions about how not to recreate unequal relationships of abuse and power in our funding relationships and in movements. If we are not naming power dynamics and honestly telling each other how we are experiencing things, as funders, or as grantees, and as allies to our movements, how can we ever get to a place where we are unraveling the broken systems and economic models that oppress and discriminate?

The important conversations about closing space, about collective and individual security and self care, and about how to reach grassroots groups, cannot take place with only funders in the room. The conversation about how to ensure funder practices are not harmful to activists cannot happen only between activists. Only through meaningful dialogue will we see some of those complex realities start to be unbound, and only then will we hopefully begin to see ripples in the field and in how we collectively work together for good.

It will take systemic changes and reforms, but it also starts with committed people who respect each other and can directly communicate about their experiences with using these systems, including those related to resourcing the work. From this event we saw this healing starts with opening space to talk about how we cultivate trust and kindness, and encourage real analysis of power dynamics and build collective accountability.

Some of the takeaways that emerged

  • Stronger, more powerful values-based conversations between activists and funders where we are all empowered and equipped to ask each other the hard questions are critical.

  • More attention needs to be paid to meeting grantees’ basic needs, ensure that activists are paid a living wage and have access to basic benefits, and support for grantees to become more financially independent.

For a full snapshot of recommendations for activists and funders, see the end of the article.

Continuing the conversation

The event generated a shared sense of commitment and enthusiasm to explore how funders and activists can work together across philanthropic and movement ecosystems.While this was just one space, one conversation, the model of bringing together activists and funders and trying to better leverage our different perspectives and ideas is one we felt worked well towards shifting power dynamics.

 

Ledys SanJuan is an advocacy officer at FRIDA, and a digital activist and specialist in feminist international political economy from Bogotá, Colombia. 

Ruby Johnson is the co-director of FRIDA and committed to advocating for community and movement driven change, and working with young feminist activists to ensure they have resources and platforms to make decisions and hold power to account. 

What We’ve Learned After Five Years of Risk Management in Philanthropy

Content Type: Blog Posts

The world is unpredictable. Unforeseen events occur that can jeopardize the success of otherwise well-conceived projects and programs. Awareness of this problem inspires the work of Open Road Alliance, which provides one-time funding to meet unforeseen obstacles that threaten the impact of promising social sector initiatives. Though providing this type of assistance is vital, the need for it suggests that both funders and nonprofit organizations would benefit from a more comprehensive understanding of the role of risk in the social sector. After five years of providing contingency funds and researching the issue, we have a clearer sense of what works and how planning for risk can save money, time, and social impact.

During the first year of our grantmaking, we worked to define our funding criteria so that our grants would build a body of evidence supporting the importance of contingency funding in the sector. We decided to select projects that were already fully financed, mid-implementation, and presented a one-time funding emergency that a single grant could solve. These parameters continue to be our definition of contingency funding.

We also added one more condition, one which we included to underscore just how much social impact funders were ignoring. We looked for projects that had the potential for some level of catalytic impact. These projects have the potential to be system-changing by creating  an amplifier or multiplier effect. For example, Open Road will fund a project that is running a clinical trial for vaccines, but not one to finish a wing of a hospital. While we think that completion of a hospital is absolutely a worthy funding opportunity, we want to demonstrate the scale of the impact that can be preserved when donors are ready to provide a relatively small amount of contingency funding to system-changing projects. What this translates to, for our team, is managing risk to protect impact, as opposed to managing financial risk, reputational risk, or governance risk. 

As we grew our portfolio, we had many examples of good projects that were threatened because the nonprofits could not quickly find small amounts of money to surmount unexpected roadblocks. But we found that the subject of contingency or emergency funding was not addressed in the literature nor did it seem to be practiced in the field at the scale needed to preserve impact across the sector. There was no common understanding of risk in philanthropy, or how to manage it in order to preserve impact.

So, over our five years, Open Road has completed several research projects to inform our advocacy and give us actionable data and tools to present to the sector. The first, in 2014, was an in-depth study of a large international health NGO that relied heavily on grant money. The study looked at risks along the project cycle including staffing, partner communication, logistics, and currency risks. We discovered that a minor hiccup in any of these areas could result in mid-implementation budget shortfalls that the established funding cycles the NGO relied on would not easily address. Clearly, roadblocks don’t wait for funding cycles. The overwhelming majority of the identified challenges stemmed both from the difference between the real costs of the project and what the grant allowed for and restricted grant money that the organization was not able to use flexibly. Most of this NGO’s projects were underfunded, which program officers knew upfront. However, they tended to accept the grant, believing that they would somehow make up the difference between the real costs and the grant budget. Then when an urgent need arose, they had no financial flexibility and were left scrambling to find funds.

One lesson from this study is that many projects, even of well-established nonprofits, are just one misfortune away from significant, organization-altering shortfalls. Of course, it is possible to manage and mitigate problems that arise from under-financing and unexpected roadblocks, but doing so is a responsibility to be shared between grantees and their funders. This collaboration is a topic we’ve written a lot about (and more recently have developed guidance on), but the findings from this 2014 study can be found here.

We wondered why project managers were willing to accept less money than the project cost. The answer appears to be closely tied to ineffective communication between funders and grantees. The project managers did not insist upon true cost funding because they feared competition from others who would accept lesser amounts. There was never a frank discussion about what underfunding would mean for the project or the areas of risk posed by insufficient funds.

Having looked at one organization in depth, we were interested in how pervasive the problem of inadequate risk management is and wanted data on how often contingency funding was needed, how often nonprofits asked for money mid-grant cycle, whether these requests were granted and, if not, how the project outcomes were impacted. In 2015, Open Road commissioned a survey of 200 nonprofits and 200 funders. The main takeaways are that disruptions requiring additional funds are common and expected — funders and grantees both reported that one in five projects required contingency funding. However, it is not common practice for either to address these problems before they occur. Grantees reported that they were hesitant to communicate with funders about potential obstacles, and funders reported that they did not ask at any point about what could go wrong.

The survey also showed that funders and grantees are often misaligned in their perceptions of outcomes. Funders believe that nonprofits could obtain necessary funds to complete projects while nonprofits reported they didn’t find additional funds and as a result projects were abbreviated, delayed, or terminated. Roughly twenty percent of funded projects do not reach anticipated goals because contingency funds are not available, which is obviously a substantial amount  of wasted time, money, effort, and impact.

The philanthropic sector's unwillingness to prepare for roadblocks sets it apart from ordinary business transactions in which having a Plan B is normal and expected. In our sector, a large proportion of projects are underfunded from the beginning and can't rely on financial backing from their funders to help them over rough spots. Plus, many of these projects are being implemented in geographic regions with vulnerabilities in infrastructure, civil institutions, and government services.

During the five years since Open Road made its first grant, we have disbursed over $12 million in charitable grants and loans to 108 projects. Our average leverage (the ratio of our money to the size of the original grant) is 7.6, meaning that our $12 million preserved the impact of $92 million worth of funds invested by other donors. Nearly all have achieved or exceeded their original goals, with just one small infusion of funds from us.

We are continuing to research risk in philanthropy and are testing out new funding mechanisms, including establishing a loan fund to provide bridge funding to nonprofits and social enterprises at below-market rates. So far, there has been significant market demand. But the point of all this — why Open Road exists and why we continue to evolve — is to provide commonsense risk management resources to our sector.

We should remember that the ultimate beneficiaries of better planning for disruption are the people  and environments that the projects were designed help. When a project fails to deliver results to the funder, it has first failed to deliver results to its target population and that should be a problematic issue for us all.

Laurie Michaels is Founder of Open Road Alliance, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary. This article is the first in a four-part series sharing what Open Road has learned about risk management in philanthropy and how the organization has evolved over the past five years to better address the need for fast, flexible contingency funding in the sector. This series will include findings from Open Road’s research and practical guidance on best practices for managing risk in order to maximize impact in philanthropy.

When the Big Ideas are “Off Strategy”

Content Type: Blog Posts

How can funders be both strategy-focused and flexible?  How can we be clear and consistent about our goals and priorities, but not risk missing big ideas that may not align perfectly with our assumptions of what the levers are?

Beginning in 2012, I invested some time on an idea that, at first, looked like a clear “no.” Since then, however, it has become an integral piece of how we and our partners spur our region towards a clean energy future.

In 2010, Barr developed a strategic plan for our climate change program that focused on the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings and transportation. Two years into working on this strategy, I received an invitation to hear a presentation about environmental research by Boston University (BU) professors. None of the topics seemed particularly on point to Barr’s new strategy. So, I passed. But as I looked into the presenters and their work, something caught my eye. One of the faculty members, Nathan Phillips, described his work as being focused on “urban metabolism.” It was a new term to me. Nathan defined it as the ebb and flow of greenhouse gas emissions in a city’s atmosphere. It struck me as a novel way to view the system (i.e., climate) we were trying to affect. I sent Nathan a note and asked for a meeting.

A few weeks later, at Nathan’s lab at BU, he graciously shared his research. One project really made me stop and think. Nathan is a tree physiologist and was concerned about street trees dying off in and around Boston. He wondered if leaking methane might be the cause – as methane starves trees of oxygen. In addition to the risk of explosion, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that drives climate change at a much faster rate than carbon dioxide. So, Nathan and a former utility gas inspector, Bob Ackley, rigged sensors to a car and did some initial ad hoc exploratory drives in the Boston testing the air for methane from the underground natural gas pipes where they came across dozens of leaks.

Addressing methane wasn’t explicitly articulated in our strategy at Barr. But, depending on the scale, I thought, this could be a big deal...

Fast forward two years. What started as an off-hand, possibly off-strategy conversation became a major shift of strategy for Barr, and for many of our partners. Most significantly, it also resulted in state-level policy changes with enormous implications for our energy use and emissions.

How did this happen? In hindsight, five steps helped me follow my intuition, and invest in a big opportunity despite its first appearance in unexpected packaging:

First, ask a set of basic questions. Was it in our plan?  In the case of methane, no.  Was the government already doing something about it?  Again, no.  Had thought leaders identified it as a priority?  Not yet. In fact, the conventional wisdom at the time was promoting natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that, while still a fossil fuel, would help us limit our coal and oil consumption. Was it a big problem?  Maybe.  Did the foundation have a role to play? Perhaps.   

Second, check your gut. My gut said yes, this could be a game-changing issue worthy of our attention – or at least serious exploration.  Our president, Jim Canales, often speaks of the importance of philanthropy balancing focus and flexibility, and of being “tight on goals but loose on how to achieve them.”  Holding tightly to our goal of addressing climate change, it felt important to be loose about this potential new pathway.

Third, tap key networks. I asked my grantees and other partners for their input and advice. There was a general sense that methane leaks might be a big contributor to climate change, but not enough data existed to make it a priority.

Fourth, invest in research. One of Barr’s grantees, the Conservation Law Foundation, agreed to work with Nathan to research the extent of the problem and develop a menu of policy solutions. How did it compare to other actions already being taken in the fight against climate change?

Finally, release the findings to those who can use the results. The resulting publication, Into Thin Air, revealed that there were 3,300 leaks in Boston alone. It also estimated that the state lost more gas through leaks than it saved through its nation-leading energy efficiency programs. The Boston Globe and several other newspapers and radio stations covered the story. Soon, a network of organizations launched a grassroots organizing campaign. Some were Barr grantees. Others weren’t. A year later, the State Legislature unanimously passed a law requiring utilities to classify and repair leaks in a timely fashion. And addressing gas infrastructure is now a top priority for climate advocates across the region.

Our collective efforts in daylighting the leaks in the distribution system catalyzed a great deal of grassroots activism that was later channeled toward calling to question the large gas pipeline proposals that would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania into New York and New England.  Advocates were concerned that the region would become even more dependent on natural gas and jeopardize the region’s ability to reduce GHG emissions – while wasting significant amounts of gas that accelerate climate change. 

At their best, strategies are a set of hypotheses, based on a moment in time, about what will bring about change. But times change. New ideas and partners emerge all the time, and often in unexpected ways. So, it is important to remain humble and open about what the right answers may be. Otherwise, we may miss some of the most powerful opportunities to achieve our goals.

Mariella Puerto is Co-director of Climate at the Barr Foundation, managing grantmaking and other initiatives that catalyze the transition to a clean-energy economy. This includes promoting policies and practices that accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency and renewable power sources in the New England region and connecting to similar efforts nationally.

Coming Together for Disaster Relief and Recovery

Content Type: Blog Posts

In late August, the Community Foundation of Collier County held a meeting with other community partners to plan for the possibility of how to collaborate in the event of a disaster, be it an attack or an act of God.   Little did we know that on September 10th our lives would be changed by Hurricane Irma—her havoc and destruction forever leaving a mark in our hearts and minds.

So together with the United Way of Collier County, we immediately jumped into action, literally from our respective shelters during the storm, and formed the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance to Hurricane Irma victims in Collier County, Florida. According to Collier County Emergency Management, Irma’s direct hit has incurred $64 million in recovery costs to date, caused 42,000 people in Collier to need some form of housing help (either in rent or hotel stays), placed 256 people in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers, and has racked up more than 4 million cubic yards of debris to be removed. The cost to replace sand on our beaches, our biggest tourist attraction that supports our economy, is estimated to be $35 million. But we are not just talking about Naples.  Collier County, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, also includes Marco Island, Everglades City, Chokoloskee, Goodland, Golden Gate, East Naples, and Immokalee.

We were able to grant $75,000 to Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida a few days after the storm to provide immediate relief for hurricane victims. Around 494,045 pounds of food and water were distributed to families, children, seniors, and other Collier County residents. Also within the first few weeks of the recovery effort, we distributed over $250,000 through 1,200 gift cards valued from $150-$250 through the Salvation Army Naples and Catholic Charities, trusted community organizations known for their careful vetting processes, to residents of Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City who were affected by Hurricane Irma.  The blend of grant funding to organizations and direct relief to individuals was important to us because we needed to help those who were in dire need, and also have a broader reach working with partners that are familiar with each area’s needs. This helped to speed up relief efforts as nonprofits did not have to go through a grant process.  Decisions on where the money was needed most were made in collaboration with the United Way of Collier County.

So far, we have raised over $1.3 million and have distributed about $800,000 to more than 20 area nonprofits that are structured to help with basic necessity and housing needs.

Now that immediate recovery needs are being met, our focus is expanding to long-term housing needs of the many that have lost their homes or have been displaced pending extensive repairs. For example, this week we found out that 350 children in our local school system who have been homeless since the storm are losing their FEMA housing assistance and will be evicted from the local hotels they have been staying at with their families. So we granted $35,000 to Collier County Public Schools whose homeless liaison will determine how to quickly disperse these funds so these families have somewhere to live until a permanent solution can be found.  

We also partnered with FEMA to educate our nonprofits on Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help them receive low–interest loans to repair their organizational structures and are holding short-term employee disaster relief funds for corporations that want to help their employees who were affected by the storm — all without any administrative fee.  One hundred percent of donations are distributed to hurricane victims. We are able to do this because of our foresight in meeting with our community partners and formulating a plan of action. We knew it was just a matter of time before we were faced with a crisis situation in our community.

So what is the silver lining to disaster? It’s the amazing way a community comes together in the time of a crisis to help people they have never met.  Individuals and organizations, large and small, are holding events to benefit this cause and make a difference.  Our community foundation, like so many others, are in touch with the needs of our community through our connections and have the power to step in to collaborate with other organizations to help when a disaster hits.  We feel this is not only an option, but this is our obligation to step up as a leader. We are inspired by the outpouring of support we have received and will continue to find ways to rebuild our community and to provide help and hope for those in need. 

Cindi Withorn is the Marketing Director at the Community Foundation of Collier County. She has been a resident of Naples, Florida for over 35 years and has experienced many tropical storms and hurricanes. Cindi, her husband, Mike and daughter, Sara stayed at a shelter with other Community Foundation staff during Hurricane Irma. You can find the Community Foundation on Facebook @communityfoundationcolliercounty and on twitter @CFCCFL. If you would like to learn more about the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund, please visit cfcollier.org.

Alternatives to War: Philanthropy Making a Difference

Content Type: Blog Posts

6.9 million people were displaced in 2016 due to violence and conflict. They contributed to the estimated 40.3 million who are currently displaced due to war, many of them refugees and migrants. The World Economic Forum queried why, with war costing $ 13.6 trillion in 2015, are we spending so little on peacebuilding? The Global Peace Index noted an improvement in 2016, but pointed out that only 1% is invested in peacebuilding as compared to the economic impact of war. The financial costs are one consideration, however, the human costs of the dead and injured are beyond calculation.

A study released earlier this year by The Social Change Initiative, Funding in Conflict-Affected Environments: Notes for Grantmakers, illuminates how independent philanthropy can tip the scales in support of peacebuilding. The big money may come from governments and multi-lateral agencies, but philanthropy can be nimble and responsive. Practical examples, drawn from interviews with funders and peace activists, highlight funding strategies during the various phases of the cycle of conflict: when tensions are rising, when there is open violence, during a transition from violence, and during conflict transformation. One featured example is the Manusher Jonno Foundation, which was on the ground to support work with the disadvantaged Saontal community in northern Bangladesh in recent years, enabling local people to highlight grievances and mobilize non-violent social justice strategies.

Peacebuilding can be both local, standing in solidarity with a threatened human rights defender by sharing information and opening up broader stakeholder connections, or global, working to mitigate armaments and re-frame international understanding. However, this new study emphasises the potential of local impact. For example, Avina, a foundation in Latin America focused on producing large-scale changes necessary for sustainable development, is collaborating with other funders to support the peace process in rural communities through Redprodepaz, a network for development and peacebuilding in Colombia. Inclusive community development approaches include ex-combatants and political activists which can open up space for dialogue about the nature and dynamics of conflict transformation. Hopes, concerns and aspirations about the potential for peacebuilding are shared alongside practical community initiatives in this ongoing programme of work. Grantmaking by independent philanthropy can be particularly effective at this level, investing in the process of community-based conflict transformation rather than focusing solely on elite decision-making on infrastructure projects.

Funding at the Heart of the Inferno

Independent philanthropy tends to cluster in regions that are emerging from violence. This is welcome, although there is a danger that funders trip over one another in the absence of discussion and coordination. Notes for Grantmakers offers practical examples where independent philanthropy helps to underpin peace processes, but it also highlights interventions to support people during actual conflict, where local people feel isolated and distraught. Inclusive peace agreements are rooted in building local confidence and capacity to advocate alternatives to violence, and to communicate the potential of peaceful change while this violence is still occurring. Philanthropy is well placed to nurture this seed bed of progressive ideas and strategies. There is much evidence to suggest that credibility is built when philanthropists work quietly and support communities during periods of conflict.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust took that risk in Northern Ireland when it funded work on the early release of political prisoners – a highly controversial issue. As a small society of 1.7 million people, the reality of some 25,000 former political prisoners was a major challenge in terms of re-integration. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) took up the baton, working with former prisoners from five opposing paramilitary groups to ensure support for the peace process over a twenty year period (1994-2014). The work undertaken was not without political cost as it was often criticised by politicians who adopted a narrower view of peacebuilding. The study also recognizes and explores the sensitivities of philanthropic intervention at such times.

Framing Philanthropy for Peacebuilding

In addition to discussing the importance of funding locally and throughout the various stages of conflict, this new study also considers how independent funding can be most effective if internal foundation decision-making structures and delivery mechanisms are framed to take the specific environment into account. The political uncertainties of conflict-affected environments can bedevil logic models of decision-making, and the flexibility and funding deftness required to exploit pulse points of change can be difficult for some foundations to manage. Small grants, given in a timely and responsive manner, can more effectively deliver sparks of peacebuilding than many top-down programmes. The Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust working in Sri Lanka uses small grants to work with victims and survivors of conflict, while the Tewa Fund supports young people caught up in conflict in Nepal. Examples abound in the work of foundations that are members of the Peace & Security Funders’ Group.

In summary, here are a few key takeaways for funders from this research:

  • Invest time in understanding the complexities of violently divided societies and the challenges and opportunities for peacebuilding and conflict transformation.
  • Listen to local voices, and particularly those individuals and communities most impacted by the violence.
  • Be prepared to invest in programmes of action across all phases of the conflict cycle, not just during the post-conflict stage.
  • Ensure that internal structures allow grantmaking that is timely and flexible.
  • Think through the added value aspects that an independent funder can bring – connections, voice, developmental support, and information.

In addition, it is important to recognise the element of risk-taking and to encourage board members to embrace it as a key element of independent philanthropy. While accepting that individual funders may be worried about engaging on the frontlines of peacebuilding, a peacebuilding practitioner posed the question: “Are you going to leave people defenceless in the face of conflict or are you going to give them the tools to be able to resist what is happening to them?”  When it comes down to it, peacebuilding is a matter of life and death. What greater challenge for independent philanthropy to make a real difference?

Funding in Conflict-Affected Environments: Notes for Grantmakers is available in English, and the Summary Report is available in English, Arabic and Spanish.

Avila Kilmurray was executive director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland from 1994 to 2014. She is currently an independent consultant with the Social Change Initiative.

Taking a Page out of Collective Impact Work: A Framework for Community Change

Content Type: Blog Posts

Four years ago, on the heels of a groundbreaking report on promising models for communities to engage teens in Jewish experiences, national and local funders representing ten communities took action.

The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment—a network of funders working together to develop, fund, support and grow new teen initiatives designed to reverse the trend of teens opting out of Jewish life in their high school years. Co-funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation with other national and local funders, the community-based initiatives differ in their approaches but share a set of common goals. And members have become valuable peer resources, as they coordinate their efforts.

From the start, taking its lead from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Funder Collaborative chose to hold itself accountable to measurable impact. It therefore invests heavily in evaluation, as each local initiative engages independent consultants and, importantly, a Cross-Community Evaluation (CCE) enables the Collaborative to analyze outcomes across communities; to identify the most promising practices and hopefully to spark a cascade of philanthropic activity on behalf of Jewish teens.  

Preparing to Deepen Action: A Funder Collaborative Finds its Way is the second installment in a series of case studies documenting the process by which these funders have come together to do their work (the first was released in 2015) and the result of 15 months of observations and interviews. By commissioning these case studies, the funders have opened a refreshingly honest window with a view to the merits and challenges of such large-scale collaboration—particularly given that large scale, collaborative community change efforts have increasingly been a focus of study among those actively engaged in supporting these initiatives. In 2011, for example, FSG, a consulting firm focused on large-scale social change efforts, first published its framework for the conditions necessary for engaging in collective impact work. More recently, The Tamarack Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to understanding community development efforts mostly in Canada, proposed a revised consideration of these conditions (see Figure below).

While the Funder Collaborative is not a strict example of “collective impact,” the Tamarack Institute’s revised articulations are instructive and highlight the complicated terrain that the Collaborative is navigating as well as some of the challenging territory it has yet to cover. Each of these conditions— FSG’s original formulation and Tamarack’s revision—serve as a focusing lens to more clearly see the ways in which the Funder Collaborative has evolved over the past two years and to understand important lessons learned about effective collaboration:

1. Broad framing of success helps move from a common agenda to shared aspirations.

The Funder Collaborative’s five shared Measures of Success are bold and audacious targets, which set the bar high for a community to move the needle on teen engagement. Critically, because the Measures are framed broadly, the 10 community funders are able to pursue independent, locally relevant approaches without getting bogged down in the need to agree on a set of common strategies; this may ultimately yield a richer, more nuanced set of results than a strictly defined common agenda.

2. Nurture relationships early on to move from a backbone structure to a container for change.

The Funder Collaborative has taken seriously the need to continue its work without overtaxing the time and energy of its constituent members by contracting with a fiscal sponsor and hiring a director. Less frequently considered, but equally critical in multiparty efforts, is the larger container for change that must be nurtured; a container built on trust which allows for experimentation and learning. From the start, using consultants with expertise in facilitation, evaluation, and teen development, members of the Funder Collaborative have been investing in relationship building and expanding their own conceptions of how to do this work.

3. Let high leverage opportunities for change lead to mutually reinforcing activities.

Some collective impact initiatives begin by choosing strategies that lend themselves to cooperation and ignore other strategies that might complicate cooperation. Although some members would like to see more opportunities for coordinated collaboration, each community is first committing to the highest leverage opportunities for delivering results locally. Only as it becomes apparent that some communities are deploying similar strategies, are there emergent opportunities for learning with and from each other. It remains to be seen if this will yield more impactful change over time.

4. Implementing shared measurement does not guarantee real-time, strategic learning.

The Cross-Community Evaluation’s work of aggregating data from local evaluations has only just begun and it is still too early for Collaborative members to have robust findings that speak to the impact of the work unfolding in each of the ten communities. Moreover, as communities grapple with their real-time local learning needs, it has become clear that cross-community evaluation of the shared measures of success is a critical but insufficient dimension of the learning agenda of the Collaborative. Efforts are underway to consider how best to enable the funders to learn about their efforts, both locally and across all ten communities, in effective, timely, and relevant ways.

5. It’s not easy to move from continuous communication to authentic community engagement.

The Collaborative has been intentional about designing initiatives that emerge out of a robust community planning effort at the local level, intended to engage as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible, including teens themselves. As many of the communities have launched their initiatives, however, it has become clear that keeping these stakeholders engaged requires significant time, political finesse and creativity. In many communities, local program providers are also satellite organizations affiliated with a national partner. The Jim Joseph Foundation has led the charge, together with the national funders, to engage these national organizations in other forums, most notably through the support of the Summit on Jewish Teens, but it is not yet an organic and integrated component of the Collaborative’s agenda.

The Collaborative has evolved into a healthy, dynamic mix of local and national funders and implementers who come together to discuss, dissect and tackle shared areas of interest. Moving forward, as more initiatives are underway in communities—and opportunities for shared learnings increases—we believe the Collaborative will continue to provide exceptional pathways for exploring the most efficient and effective means of collaborating for collective impact.

Sara Allen is Director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, a philanthropic endeavor comprised of national and local funders committed to learning together, to sharing best practices, and to investing in community-based Jewish teen education and engagement initiatives in these ten Collaborative communities across the country. Allen has nearly two decades of experience in both the private sector and Jewish organizational worlds, with expertise in strategic planning, marketing and development, millennial engagement and leadership development, and new technology. 

Pearl Mattenson, M.A., is a Director at Rosov Consulting. Pearl is a certified systems coach, specializing in consulting and evaluation projects which are emergent and require alignment and collaboration between multiple stakeholders — internal and external. She is an outstanding facilitator of high-stakes conversations and has a deep understanding of organizational change efforts.