Archive for April, 2011

Time After Time

Friday, April 29th, 2011

So it’s been a year since I started blogging. I read over my posts from that past year last night, and thought about threads I’d like to continue in the coming year, and those that I’d like to summarize and try to say something more definitive on.

To continue:

To summarize:

To possibly begin exploring:

  • The role of philanthropy in a democratic society based on prior international experiences like Eastern Europe and Latin America, amid the lessons they hold for the Middle East.

And there’ll be more in the last category, for sure….

Sounds like a plan!

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(Lost in) A Forest

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Continuing from yesterday on the theme of agriculture vs. engineering as a metaphor for social change, and the role of innovation in philanthropy.

James Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (which should be required reading for anyone in philanthropy) opens with a metaphor about forestry (which I know isn’t the same as agriculture, but anyway). A set of loggers looked at a forest, with all of its messy complexity – trees of different sizes, ferns, moss, shrubs, bushes, underbrush, fungi, rotting fallen logs, etc., etc. – and thought, how can we most rationally extract as much timber as possible? Well, we need to clear away all the underbrush, and turn the forest into as close an approximation as possible of evenly spaced, easily cut-down-able logs that just happen to be vertical until we can cut them down. To rationalize the extraction of timber.

That’s a plan, as far as it goes. But the problem is, without the underbrush, and the bushes, and the shrubs, and the other trees of varying sizes – the timber trees couldn’t survive. They needed the whole complex ecosystem of the forest for sustenance. So in the end, the loggers got less lumber than if they had worked within the “constraints” of the existing ecosystem.

How often are we like those loggers in philanthropy? How often do we not see the forest (of sustainability) for the trees (of impact or innovation)?

P.S. My first post on this blog was April 21, 2010; happy blog-o-versary to me! I’m on the road for work next week, but I’ll do my best to celebrate with a look back at some of the topics I’ve covered, and begin thinking about what lies ahead…

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

I’ve written previously on agriculture vs. engineering as a metaphor for social change. I’m thinking that one way this applies to philanthropy is in the pursuit of innovation.

When too many funders in a given nonprofit ecosystem only want to fund innovation, and not enough fund what’s already working, the ecosystem gets out of whack. There’s a nobility and an inherent value in supporting community resources – soup kitchens, senior centers, arts groups – that make up the fabric of civil society. These groups aren’t necessarily trying to solve problems in a way that makes replication and scaling a kind of moral imperative – if you’re solving this problem and it works, aren’t you obligated to try to solve it more and more places for more and more people? Instead, they make everyday life a little better for broad groups of people.

Every garden, every ecosystem, needs these kinds of plants, these kinds of organizations. But what happens when all the funders want to focus on what’s innovative, on an exotic new hybrid or breed? Who watches out for the health of the ecosystem as a whole? Who guards the gardener?* Or makes sure that the gardener exists?

*A spin on the classic question of political science, “who guards the guardian?”

Let the River Run

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Hi – back after a couple of weeks under the radar. Per my last post, I was at the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and Council on Foundations (CoF) conferences back-to-back in Philadelphia. My guest post on the CoF website on one of the panels I moderated is here.

Welcome to new readers who began following me on Twitter in Philly. My mission statement for this blog is here, and my shtick is to use song titles for blog-post titles.

One of my biggest takeaways from the confluence of the “next-generation” (or really, “now-generation”) EPIP conference and the “mainstream” CoF conference is how distinct they are – like the black Amazon and the brown (sandy) Amazon:

Meeting of the Waters - "Black" Amazon and "Sandy" Amazon

Meeting of the Waters - "Black" Amazon and "Sandy" Amazon

The two conferences were alongside each other and many people, me included, traversed both, but our experiences were very different. I won’t say which one is sandy and which one is clear!

But the main difference had to do with how much the personal level – our individual narratives of class, leadership, social interaction, race, ethnicity – were not the background but the foreground and content of discussions at the EPIP conference. See here for a series of blog posts that break down different elements of the conference content. We heard from foundation CEOs who talked about their personal leadership journeys, trainers who helped us understand and break down narratives of class, social-justice advocates who talked about their organizing victories that sprang from marrying personal transformation with structural change. The personal is the professional, we kept hearing.

And on the other side of the river…nothing. It was all about roles, but not about the people who inhabit the roles. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Panels on “Why Aren’t Foundation Boards More Diverse?” and “Speaking of Race” brought in questions of identity.) I’m reminded of GrantCraft’s work on bringing your “whole self” to your role as a grantmaker. But that narrative, that approach, was absent during the CoF conference.

I came away from the Meeting of the Waters wondering if the EPIP mode is the way of the future. Will Generations X and Y expect the personal to be discussed alongside, as part of the professional, as they move forward in the field and become the “mainstream” audience of the CoF conference? What will this confluence of conferences look like in 10 or 20 years? (Assuming there is still a field of the type we recognize today, which, honestly, who knows….)

Streets (or Meeting Rooms) of Philadelphia

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

From the Department of Self-Promotion: Don’t usually like to toot my own horn like this, but if you’re in Philadelphia for the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and/or Council on Foundations conference the next few days, come check me out on these two panels. Have to say, having been involved in organizing these, we were able to get some pretty excellent speakers, I’m looking forward to two great sessions!

“The 3 I’s of Foundation Effectiveness: Information, Inclusion, and Influence”

Friday, April 8, 11:30am-1:30pm

EPIP National Conference

“Diesel” Room, Cira City CenterFunders have very different notions of what effectiveness means for foundations. Yet common definitions are possible. This session identifies how foundation effectiveness emerges from the confluence of three factors: information, inclusion, and influence. When foundations leverage the information they already have about their program areas and grantees and share it with a broader audience, they extend their reach.  When they practice inclusion in how decisions are made, how initiatives are designed, and who serves on their staffs and boards, they improve the quality of their work. And when they intentionally harness the influence they are already having in their communities, they strengthen their ability to make a difference. Come learn from funders who have leveraged information, inclusion, and influence to build their effectiveness, and get concrete advice on how to do the same in your own foundation.

Speakers/Moderators:

Chris Cardona, Associate Director of Philanthropic Services, TCC Group

Bonnie Mazza, Consultant, TCC Group

Speakers:

Leo Canty, Former Board Chair, Connecticut Health Foundation

Vic De Luca, President, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation

Peter Goodwin, Chief Operating Officer & Treasurer, Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation

“Philanthropic Strategy: Too Much of a Good Thing?”

Sunday, April 10, 2:00-3:30pm

Council on Foundations Annual Conference

Liberty Salon B, Level 3, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown

Traditionally, philanthropists trusted nonprofit organizations to know the issues and implement programs to address problems. Today, foundations are much more sophisticated in guiding their giving. They have expert staff and often devise the “solutions” they want to see implemented by grantees. But has the pendulum swung too far? Do foundations assume they know how to address problems better than those “on the ground”? Or are they being responsible fiduciaries in addressing complex problems?

Presenter(s): Denise McGregor Armbrister, Executive Director, Wachovia Regional Foundation; Jacob Harold, Program Officer for Philanthropy and Regional Grants, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Gary L. Yates, President and CEO, The California Wellness Foundation
Moderator(s): Chris Cardona, Associate Director of Philanthropy, TCC Group
Session Designer(s): Ashley Blanchard, Associate Director of Philanthropy, TCC Group