Giving Compass’ Take:
• Maya Winklestein, writing for Grantcraft, shares three major lessons she has learned after transitioning from nonprofit to foundation work.
• How will this experience help her build more positive relationships between grantmakers and grantees?
• Read about how foundations can learn and share more.
I began my career in philanthropy as many do — working for nonprofits. Specifically, I was a fundraiser … 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.
The world isn’t predictable. 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.
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.
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Many projects, even of well-established nonprofits and programs, are just one “oh my gosh” moment away from significant, impact-killing shortfalls.
It’s not written in stone. 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.
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.
Read the full article about truths after five years on the foundation side by Maya Winklestein at Grantcraft.
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