Articles

Supporting Innovation to Tackle Poverty

Posted by on Apr 16, 2019 in Articles, Blog

What was it that wise person once said about expecting different results from doing the same thing over and over again? Well, what would happen by coming at a particularly challenging issue like poverty from another angle? What would happen if you took a page from the handbook on entrepreneurship, injected the spirit of innovation and mixed it up with funding and coaching support for smart folks who bring new ideas? The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland did just that with the launch of the Innovation Mission: Fighting Poverty with Big Ideas. Foundation President Susanna Krey talked with me about what they, the social entrepreneurs and the community are learning. Q: The Foundation made a crucial strategic decision with its Innovation Mission. How did you land on this approach? A: We have spent the last two decades deeply immersed in seeking ways to break the cycle of poverty here in Cleveland. We’ve seen some really incredible results, like a forecasted end to chronic homelessness by 2020, but when all is said and done, a full one-third of Clevelanders still live in poverty. A fellowship was merely the vehicle we used to develop more impactful ideas that could address the issue of poverty in Cleveland. We believed that innovation can be learned and wanted to begin to develop this capacity in our partners. We know that innovative approaches can provide depth in understanding the problem. We hope these individuals will help their organizations incorporate these ideas into everyday practice. Q: What have been some of the most significant moments in the process you launched? A: We kicked off The Innovation Mission in December 2017 with an opening reception. It was such a memorable evening, and we were inspired by the fellows’ presentations and passion for the issues they chose to address. It felt like a very exciting moment, for all of the stakeholders who had been involved in the fellowship’s development to see the program come to fruition with such energy. The beginning of the design process was also a milestone. During the beginning months of the fellowship, the fellows faced various challenges and obstacles that seemed insurmountable at different times. Some of these required the fellows to pivot or refocus their projects. But, at 10-12 months into the fellowship, all of the fellows seemed to hit their stride; they had adjusted their projects and were moving confidently in a direction that held opportunity for success. And our first big result from one of the fellowship projects came from the work of Hazel Remesch, a supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Hazel’s work led directly to a new rule in the Cleveland Housing Court that will make it easier for residents to seal their eviction records, eliminating a major barrier to safe and stable housing. Q: What would you say have been the key learnings thus far from the people which the Innovation Mission is supporting? A: Each of the fellows has made significant progress on their initiatives through research and partnerships, and all have credited The Innovation Mission with helping them think differently about their approach to work in their professional careers. The fellows have learned that true innovation is not just a bright idea; it involves constant iteration, some failure and plenty of learning. When they began the fellowship, the fellows thought they were going to spend 18 months designing a solution, and many were surprised to find that the key to their success was spending most of their time focused on the problem they were trying to solve. By studying the issues, fellows were better able to identify gaps where they could step in to help, and they found it easier to establish partnerships with people and organizations already focused on the same issues. Q: What advice would you share with other foundations based on your experience with this strategy? A: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you want to make a big change, be as thoughtful as you can – make plans, anticipate questions, identify and plan for barriers to...

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Compensation Approaches When Long-Serving Chief Executives Transition Out

Posted by on Apr 2, 2019 in Articles, Blog

Compensation Approaches When Long-Serving Chief Executives Transition Out

I recently assisted a small-staffed, private foundation in a planned leadership transition of their chief executive who had a tenure of 20-plus years. To get a sense of how other foundations approached creative retirement/transition packages for long-serving foundation chief executives, I posted a list-serv inquiry with Exponent Philanthropy, 21/64 and Philanthropy Ohio. With the permission of the foundation, I’m sharing some of what we learned. I have edited the comments to ensure the privacy of the respondents and organizations. We have a local private foundation work with us as a community foundation to establish a named endowed fund in honor of their former staff and board alumni to benefit the organizations or initiatives that the person identified as the most meaningful to them. Everyone has really appreciated this dedication to honor their community impact legacy and the private foundation enjoys supporting the local community foundation. Director of Donor Services, Community Foundation I was involved with a private foundation whose executive director left after many years. While he requested compensation upon his exit, their attorneys cautioned the board on giving too significant an amount of compensation after the executive had left the organization, because it might appear to be “excessive compensation” for a nonprofit. Instead, they made a grant to a nonprofit where the outgoing executive director became a fellow, and worked part-time for a couple of years. Executive Director, Philanthropic Support Organization I’ve heard of a grantor family that donated to a Charitable Remainder Unitrust with the income payments to the retired Director for life; with remainder to qualified public charity(ies). Vice President, Financial Services Corporation I’m happy to be able to weigh in on this one. When our (previous) Executive Director retired, the Board elected to honor his 25 years of service in the following ways: We retained him as a salaried employee with the title of Executive Consultant for six months. During this period, we paid him the same salary, but without any fringe benefits. Our board also established a grant award fund in his name. The award of $50,000 will be given to one organization annually that best exemplifies excellence in our strategic focus area. Executive Director, Private Foundation I took over as the CEO of a small foundation back in mid-2017 and I assumed the role because the exiting CEO of 20 years was retiring. There was a one-month overlap between us; his institutional knowledge being passed to me over 30 days allowed for him to be needed a bit less after his exit. My board also supported on-going support from the prior executive as needed for up to one year (that was in my court). We contracted with him for two additional items afterwards. There were a series of client/donor/investor meetings that he flew to so warm introductions could be made and so he also could serve as my guide (we cover a large geography with different groups of influence). We paid all of his expenses and a consulting fee based on his hours of work. In total it probably worked out to be about $1,000/day + expenses. He also completed a report for our constituents that was an annual report that he worked with me on but largely did the work for. That was all we needed in our space but I still keep in touch with the prior CEO and we share exchanges almost monthly just touching base informally. He was very humble in the transition and wants to see me be successful. President, Foundation A foundation that was in the process of sunsetting provided its executive director a major annual investment in the ED’s retirement fund, covered the cost of the ED’s and spouse’s COBRA extension, and created a Donor-Advised Fund at the ED’s local community foundation which allocated 60% pay for a year with limited duties. Former Foundation Executive...

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Learning Organizations

Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in Articles, Blog

I’m always interested in finding out how different organizations pursue a learning agenda. I talked with Connie Hawk, Director of the Licking County Foundation in Newark, Ohio, who oversees a staff of six. Here’s how Connie inculcated a learning culture inside this community foundation.   Q: I understand the Licking County Foundation (LCF) has a team approach for staff professional development. How did this approach develop – intentionally or organically over time? A: It was a bit of both! There’s a culture of learning, sharing, curiosity, and openness to trying new things at LCF. Our team approach helps a small staff take advantage of the many and varied professional development opportunities available to our field. These opportunities are shared by everyone at weekly staff meetings to gauge interest. Sometimes, we’ll decide to participate together—like watching a webinar (always better with pizza). Sometimes, we’ll divide and conquer—attending individually and then sharing insights with the team. Sometimes, we’ll invite others in our community—board and committee members, donors, nonprofit partners, and other funders—to join us as we learn.   Q: How do you identify priority issues for staff learning? A: Key factors are: LCF’s strategic and succession/leadership development plans, Licking County’s community blueprint, opportunities/challenges/initiatives which bubble up and we’re asked to get involved, trends, new things we’d like to try—and, importantly, individual staff interests/growth.   Q: What have been some of the outcomes of this kind of professional development approach? A: There’s been a rippling effect. This team approach extends to sharing best practices or new ideas with our community. LCF has a robust series of workshops which are offered to area stakeholders. For example, last year, teams of nonprofit board and staff members attended a series of six workshops to strengthen their organizations and our community through endowment building. We also partnered with an area university to host a workshop on civil discourse skill-building at the public library. This year, we’ll focus on succession planning and board development. One of our staff members has taken the lead in organizing a successful women’s leadership conference. Another staff member leads a youth philanthropy program. LCF has become a go-to for best practices and new ideas.   Q: What advice would you share with other foundations based on this team effort in professional development? A: Be open to and encourage all kinds of learning—you never know where ah-ha moments of inspiration will come from. Make professional development a priority for not only your own organization, but for sharing it with your community. Include it as an operational budget line item with each staff member having an equal share of this learning pool. Allocate strategic grant funds annually which are restricted to offering capacity-building opportunities for the community. Professional development creates...

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Who Do You Turn To?

Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in Articles, Blog

Who do you turn to when navigating board, staff or community dynamics?   I’ve served as executive and senior staff for several foundations and been an advisor to dozens of grantmakers and nonprofit organizations around the country.  It’s not unusual to find myself in a coaching role with a chief executive or board chair in these assignments.  They place great value on having a trusted, experienced voice to provide objective and reliable guidance through the twists-and-turns of their work. I asked two foundation chief executives that I’ve coached to share their stories.  I always conduct such work on a confidential basis so am not including their names or affiliations. What moved you to seek executive coaching in your work? Executive 1:  As the ED and our sole employee, I was looking for support to improve my leadership skills.  This would in turn create more effective management of the foundation and greater impact in our community. Executive 2:  Sometimes working so closely in the day-to-day activity interferes with examining all the possibilities.  I wanted to have a fresh set of eyes, particularly as we were updating our strategic plan.  I appreciate the spectrum of philanthropic support groups out there, but I’ve not found a peer group from a similar enough circumstance to our foundation. I was seeking someone who understood philanthropy, someone of expertise. What did you learn through your coaching experience and how did you apply that learning in your work for the foundation? Executive 1:  I learned how to better navigate the ins-and-outs of strategic planning, and how to maneuver through the delicate dynamics present in the board room.  Jeff also encouraged me to find my stance in leading our board to find a balance in maintaining our foundation’s independence while continuing to partner with much larger funders. Executive 2:  This coaching helped me learn ways to utilize input from multiple stakeholders more effectively.  This helped me incorporate more input into our activities and goals, and more tangible ways to evaluate what success means for the foundation.  I added more indicators to consider if our actions had the intended impact and to better test our assumptions. What counsel would you share with other foundation executives about using coaching to strengthen their work? Executive 1:  It was helpful to have an independent, experienced professional to take a closer look at my personal skills and to lean where I could be more effective.  Jeff provided concrete suggestions and examples on implementing change so I could achieve more impact in my work.  He also connected me with like-institutions.  Being able to network with others when it requires confidentiality was extremely helpful. Executive 2:  When you are passionate about your work, it is personal to you and that can mean you don’t want to give up control.  In working with a coach, develop a trusting relationship – and remember trust goes both ways.  This work can involve sharing vulnerabilities in order to be most helpful.  An open, trusting and confidential relationship will provide for the best possibilities to carry out your responsibility. For more information on how we help foundations and nonprofits strengthen their impact through executive coaching, strategic planning, evaluation and organizational development, contact Jeff Glebocki at jeff@strategyplusaction.com or...

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The Sunk Cost Fallacy – 5 Red-Flags That Tell You It Might Be Time to Move On

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in Articles, Blog

I recently read an article on behavioral research about the sunk cost fallacy (The Economist, 6-2-18)and it got me thinking about how much of this goes on in philanthropy. As many economists and writers have described, the sunk cost fallacy is irrational decision-making driven by emotion and based on past investments – and which disregards actual data and experience. Put more succinctly, it’s the proverbial practice of throwing good money after bad. I’m not talking here about the hard work of tackling significant problems that take years of focus and commitment to have an impact on. I am talking about foundations and nonprofits that continue to invest time and money in programs and initiatives that aren’t going anywhere soon… but maybe if we give it one more year of funding or another redesign or hire different staff, then we’ll see some change. Or more likely, maybe not. As I’ve written before, knowing the difference between when to stay the course and when to pull the plug – and having the gumption to do so – is called leadership. Here are five red-flags that suggest the sunk cost fallacy may be driving your decision-making to put more time and money into a project or organization when it’s actually better to move on: You see lots of “activity” going on and very little real action There’s no evidence of substantial change, and there’s an inability and/or hesitance to set measurable objectives or targets Senior leadership stops showing up for meetings or they start sending their lieutenants Meetings result in agreements to have more meetings and not much else It’s a favorite endeavor of one or more board members and easier to keep funding it or working on it rather than calling the question. If you see these red-flags popping up in your work, hit the pause button to re-consider if and how you continue your efforts. For more information on how we help foundations and nonprofits strengthen their impact through strategic planning, evaluation and organizational development, contact Jeff Glebocki atjeff@strategyplusaction.com or...

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A Must Read Article on Foundation Transparency

Posted by on Jun 13, 2018 in Articles, Blog

Transparency has become a watchword in private philanthropy, but far too much of the discussion of this timely topic remains steeped in opinion rather than research. A new Foundation Review article reports critically important and some surprising findings from new research not previously addressed in foundation literature. This article provides new guidance regarding potential benefits and risks inherent in foundation transparency practices. Foundations should carefully consider their transparency-related policy/strategy from perspectives framed in this article. The article is available for free download at the Foundation Review. I encourage you to read this article as you think about transparency within your foundation. A tip of the hat to colleague and author Bob Reid, CEO of the J.F Maddox...

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