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Leading Through the Unexpected

Posted by on Apr 28, 2020 in Articles, Blog

Leading Through the Unexpected

You know the drill – here’s yet another article/blog/webinar about how leaders should be more resilient, more agile, more creative in responding to and managing change.  Well, what happens when the meteor comes crashing through your roof and upends pretty much everything?  Much like the past few months of 2020. Through my work on a special project I’m engaged with for a family foundation, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Scott Sprenger, Dean of the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.   He and I have been comparing notes on the “if-and-how” of individuals and organizations adapt to things no one saw coming. Scott shared this article he wrote a few years ago urging college students to learn to expect the unexpected as they consider their majors, careers and their lives ahead.  The themes he calls out on expectations and behaviors around change are something we can all benefit from considering. Of the questions that preoccupy incoming college students — financial, scheduling, housing, belonging — advisors report that the choice of major and career path is the most anxiety-inducing. After all, isn’t choosing the right major the ticket to a successful career and life? Unfortunately, most students feel undue pressure to discover the perfect major. But unless they are headed for specific careers with precise knowledge or licensure requirements, the belief that the major is a direct line to a career is misleading, and a cause of widespread “dysfunction,” according to Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The problem begins when students pick a major that is misaligned with their aptitudes, interests or personal values, yet they stick with it due to social pressure or a perceived lack of suitable alternatives. To begin to dispel this dysfunctional belief, it is important to realize that the correlation between a major and a specific career is weak, especially in today’s global economy that creates and destroys jobs at an accelerating pace. We know from a LinkedIn study, for example, that recent college graduates will change positions “an average of four times in their first decade out of college.” Moreover, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study shows that a staggering 73 percent of the nation’s graduates are employed in fields unrelated to their undergraduate major. What should we conclude from these facts? Skeptics will want to argue that universities are failing students by not delivering on an implied “major-to-career” promise. Indeed, a few outspoken politicians around the country have concluded that too many students are choosing the “wrong” major and want to defund majors – or even entire colleges – that do not lead directly to jobs. While the sentiment is perhaps understandable, and university reforms are in order, there is a more accurate way to view this problem: reverse the perspective. If the statistical correlation between choice of major and direct career outcome represents only 27 percent of the college-educated sector of the labor market, why is this minority sector considered the norm? This shift in perspective is potentially liberating for students as it suddenly takes pressure off finding the elusive “perfect” major while widening student focus to the full spectrum of available pathways into the labor market, including those in the liberal arts and social sciences. In this vein, it is also helpful to know that approximately 30 percent of post-collegiate hiring in the U.S. is major-independent and about 70 percent of employers are looking for a hybridity of skills that draw on different academic disciplines and experiences. This is according to the Collegiate Education Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University, which conducts an annual survey of 2,000 to 3,000 companies and organizations on topics related to hiring college graduates. An important corollary, then, to the choice of major is an integrated approach to higher education — one that promises maximal entry-level options and the ability to pivot to a new career when market disruption inevitably strikes. An important new report by The National Academies of Sciences – Engineering – Medicine (2018) suggests that even employers in the white-hot STEM market seek agile graduates...

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How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis

Posted by on Apr 9, 2020 in Articles, Blog

How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis

The past several weeks have seen impressive and quick pivots by many funders adapting to the new environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Case in point – there are now more than 300 community response and relief funds organized by foundations, United Ways and other organizations. Learn MoreMany funders have streamlined application and reporting requirements, and are making funding available now to their nonprofit partners through flexible payment schedules.  Still others are giving grantees the OK to convert previously-approved project grants to general operating funding.Here are a few recent examples of pivots by funders that have caught my eye.  PS:  If you are a funder who hasn’t yet taken at least some of these steps to support your grantees during these extraordinary times, call me – we need to talk!One of the more humane and grounded messages to grantees comes from a former boss of mine, Dave Abbott, Executive Director at the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland (Learn More): If you have a special purpose or project grant from us and it would be more helpful to use those funds for operations, feel free to do so.  We ask only that you let us know. We are extending grant report due dates until September 30 for those who have an earlier deadline.  And if greater flexibility is needed, we will work with you.  Please ignore any automated notices you may receive from our grants management system. The Lumina Foundation, a national funder, conveyed a similar spirit when President and CEO Jamie Merisotis reached out to their partners: We can talk about adjusting, delaying, or waiving terms and timelines of any grant or contract (including interim and final reports) so that you can put your focus where it needs to be right now. We will do what’s best for you and the work to ensure the continued strength of our partners—and the best outcomes. Jamie’s message also offered to accelerate payments for existing grants to help Lumina’s partners maintain sufficient cash flow.Small- and medium-sized foundations and donors are stepping up to the plate as well in quickly adapting to circumstances and help the nonprofit community: One private foundation I work with doubled the amount of discretionary grants which its board members can make to grantees in need. A family foundation I assist has converted all of its 2020 project grants to general operating grants. Resource Generation is urging young people with means to contribute their stimulus checks to social causes via the Share My Check movement.  Several executives from small- and mid-sized foundations share how their respective organizations are responding to the “now” and preparing for the near-future: “We’ve moved budget allocations around our different programs to provide more flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, and we’ve allocated several hundred thousand dollars for our own rapid-response fund.  Learning from other regional funding models that have been created around the country, we are partnering with our State Department of Education, our regional association of funders, and individual foundations to target support for needs involving remote learning.”   Executive Director, Private Foundation “At this point, we are staying the course, taking a ‘be patient’ approach and maintaining our grant-making budget for the time being.  We’ll be checking in at regular intervals with our investment advisors, of course, and making adjustments as needed going forward.  We are providing flexibility to our grant partners with some modest funding cushions as we can in helping them adapt to the changes they face.  We certainly expect they will be having more challenges as economic conditions worsen – and that we’ll be seeing this reflected in future requests we receive.”  Executive Director, Private...

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5 Things Funders Can Do Right Now to Help Nonprofits During This Crisis

Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in Articles, Blog

COVID-19:  This story is unfolding by the hour, and we don’t know what the ramifications will be next week, much less six months or a year from now.  Even with the roller-coaster market at play, though, funders have options on how they can best support their grant partners through this crisis.  You and they are, for all practical purposes, in the same boat – so start rowing together with your partners.  Here are five things funders can start with right now. 1. Listen to what your grant partners’ needs are. Even those organizations with risk management and contingency plans will face difficult moments in navigating through these unpredictable times.  Listen to what those programmatic, financial and performance challenges are; collaborate on finding effective responses; and be prepared to offer real-time funding assistance. 2. Explore how to help the people and communities your grantees serve that will need more immediate help. Business and school closures, disruption of services, restricted access to goods and services, unexpected expenses.  Real people’s lives are being negatively affected already, and those with limited resources will face greater struggles.  Consider what creative – and timely – ways you can provide funding to your grant partners to ameliorate the impact on the ground.3. Move money quickly. Foundation application and grant review calendars rarely align with how the real-world operates.  Think about a new (and streamlined!) application and grant review schedule to provide more real-time response to community needs.  Consider moving up grant payment schedules to provide the funding your partners need now.  Does that next grant payment require a progress report first?  Temporarily drop that requirement so your grantees can focus on their work in tackling the substantive challenges this crisis is presenting.  Also, consider converting program grants to general operating support to give your grantees the ability to be more agile in responding to fast moving issues.4. Create a dedicated pool of easily accessible funding. Set aside a substantial pool of grant funds to help your partners weather the spectrum of challenges they are wrestling with – and make those funds available quickly and with less red-tape.  Do they need bridge funding because their big annual fundraiser was cancelled?  Do they need equipment, software or other assistance to quickly switch to remote work or change the way they deliver services?  Have their operational costs jumped because the people they serve have been hit hard financially?  Your quick turn-around in funding can make all the difference between success and failure.5. Be flexible. There’s a good chance your grant partners aren’t going to meet their fundraising goals this year, nor fulfill everything they had hoped to do in their strategic plans.  They are also likely to have a new bundle of unforeseen issues on their plates that will complicate their year’s accomplishments.  You can still meet your fiduciary responsibilities at the same time as right-sizing your expectations and simplifying your grant...

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Trends in Philanthropy Grantmakers Need to Know

Posted by on Jan 29, 2020 in Articles, Blog

A key component in developing Philanthropy Ohio’s strategic framework was to learn about national trends in the philanthropic sector. I interviewed seven regional and national thought-leaders and reviewed numerous reports and studies. I’ve now brought this learning forward with updated information on high-level trends that grantmakers need to pay attention to. Philanthropy Ohio first posted my blog on January 21, 2020.  I served as Philanthropy Ohio’s strategic planning consultant. Changing role of governmentRegardless of political persuasion, a fundamental shift is occurring in the role of government; specifically, the traditional compact between government, philanthropy, and nonprofits. These are changes in the fundamental nature of the public/private partnership.One observer describes this moment as the “Uber-equivalent” for philanthropy, and one which philanthropy is not prepared for. With this change afoot – who is the investor in community problem solving, who sets the context, who makes the rules, how is philanthropic capital managed and deployed? Following federal and state policyThe 2016 presidential election is often described as a wake-up call. More foundations are now engaging in and funding policy and advocacy efforts as a result. Keep an eye open for how national issues play out locally with an impact on people and communities (health care is a particularly stark example). Watch carefully for state laws that begin in one place and quickly move to other states.Data, data, dataThere is concern about the diminished role and capability of government in collecting, analyzing and sharing high-quality data and in supporting research. We know that equal access to good data is critical to understanding and tackling complex issues. But who has the data, who has access, who has the capacity and knowledge to utilize data?Changes in tax lawMixed messages galore. The Giving USA 2019 report on charitable giving (based on 2018 numbers) estimated Americans gave $427.71 billion in contributions. Total contributions grew by 0.7% in current dollars but declined 1.7% adjusted for inflation.Giving by foundations was up and had a record-breaking year; giving by corporations was also up. But giving by individuals was down, and giving by bequests remained flat. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that “fewer Americans are making room in their budgets for charity, and nonprofits are increasingly relying on the affluent for support.” As Giving USA observes, these trends and numbers are shaped by a mixture of countervailing economic and policy factors.Role of the mega-giverThe current crop of mega-donors – think billionaires – grab headlines. What are their behavioral attributes? They generally want to do their own thing, are not usually collaborative and typically don’t want to learn from the field.At the same time, the rhetoric around mega-givers doesn’t quite match the reality of this “new philanthropy.” Some research suggests little difference, for example, in the leanness between new and legacy philanthropy. One respondent feels that “as they grow, mega-givers start to look a lot like the institutional grantmakers they initially disregarded.” Rise of the millennial donorStereotypes of millennials abound. The research, though, sheds factual light on how they are engaging in philanthropy. Millennials are less attracted to organizations and associations, and less tied to “place.” They are impatient with traditional approaches to problem-solving and have a greater willingness to pose challenging questions to preceding generations in the process.Pursuit of equityIn a field well-known for short attention spans, the pursuit of equity is an issue with staying power. That said, respondents concur that moving towards equity is a journey; and it is much more difficult, challenging and complicated than people realize.Listening to those we serveFunders are increasingly incorporating engagement of community voices in their planning and decision making. Getting feedback from the people being served is described as a powerful, transformative act, and one that can be a great source of...

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Bill Gates has His List, Here’s Mine

Posted by on Dec 19, 2019 in Articles, Blog

Bill Gates recently shared his annual list of favorite books, a collection of powerful stories from 2019 I’d like to share my own year-end list, albeit of a different nature.   I serve in many roles working with foundation and nonprofit leaders, boards and staff – thought-partner, planner, facilitator, coach and oftentimes organizational “therapist.” The connecting thread is helping people and organizations pursue change – first in themselves and their organizations, then in their work out in the world.  In this spirit, here is my list of particularly insightful quotes I’ve come across over the past year or so.*  Each piece of wisdom strikes me as a truth in our journey through change, as individuals and as organizations.  Enjoy!Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.      – Franklin Pierce AdamsIt is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.      – Eugene IonescoWe are often unable to tell people what they need to know because they want to know something else.      – George MacDonaldThe only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.      – Arthur C. ClarkeWe so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.      – Alexander Graham BellIt is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.      – Gabriel Garcia Marquez*Tip of the hat to the Economist Espresso morning briefing where most of these quotes...

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