January Must-Reads

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The start of the new year brought reflections—one from a former program officer on questions he wishes he’d asked, and one from the codirectors of Management Assistance Group on how the organization is creating a culture of shared leadership. We also were drawn to an article outlining a new model for capacity building, a comparison of the nonprofit sector to the gig economy, and 13 leaders’ perspectives on how philanthropy can further Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic justice goals.

What caught your attention this month?

GRANTMAKING STRATEGY | Chronicle of Philanthropy | 5-minute read

Antony Bugg-Levine, a former Rockefeller Foundation program officer, reflects on seven questions he wishes he had asked of himself and his foundation colleagues, including Why do we award large grants to large organizations but only small grants to small ones? and Why do foundations ask grantees to provide formal written reports, and in a format unique to each of us? Bugg-Levine shares openly about requests he made as a program officer that make him cringe today and what he would do differently in his former role.

LEADERSHIP | Management Assistance Group | 6-minute read

Three years after Elissa Sloan Perry and Susan Misra took on the roles of codirectors at Management Assistance Group, they reflect on what they are learning and the full team’s efforts to co-create a shared leadership culture across the organization. The experiment has resulted in greater shared leadership, a deeper alignment with the organization’s values and the five elements needed to advance justice, and a slower burnout rate. Elissa and Susan write about what shared leadership looks like for Management Assistance Group and eight principles that guide their roles as codirectors.

CAPACITY BUILDING | Nonprofit Quarterly | 5-minute read

Many capacity building models are outdated and set nonprofits up to fail, the author argues. These models are built on false assumptions about who has expertise, funnel knowledge and learning in one direction, and fail to plan for a transition after capacity is built. Organizations can create a new, more powerful partnership model in which all organizations are seen as equal contributors, local leadership is valued, and partners plan for the long term.

GRANTMAKING STRATEGY | National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy | 5-minute read

While many foundations agree that general operating support is critical, only 20% of domestic funding among the largest 1,000 U.S. foundations goes toward general support, creating philanthropy’s version of the gig economy, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. A new report, “Capturing General Operating Support Effectiveness” by TCC Group’s Jared Raynor and Deepti Sood, provides an evaluation framework for funders to understand the impact of their general support grants. Yet a framework isn’t enough, argues the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, if funders don’t trust grantees and if funding decisions are based on biased views of what strong nonprofits look like.

EQUITY | Chronicle of Philanthropy | 14-minute read

Martin Luther King Jr. argued for a “radical redistribution of economic and political power.” How can philanthropy move us closer to that vision? Leaders from Meyer Memorial Trust, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Ford FoundationDemos, and others share thoughts on linking economic justice to racial justice, addressing housing disparities and student debt, holding corporations and government accountable, and more.

Community-Led Change: A Capacity-Building Case Study

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“This is an excerpt of one case study in a suite of five focused on building grantee capacity. You can read the full case study on the GrantCraft website, and you can read an analysis and find links to all five case studies in our blog post “Five Elements for Success in Capacity Building.”

To make community change that sticks, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation turns to those who know best what a neighborhood needs: community members themselves.

For more than 20 years, the foundation has invested in improving the quality of life for children and families living in low-income communities in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The foundation works toward this goal by giving multiyear grants and capacity-building support to nonprofits that plan and implement neighborhood revitalization initiatives.

The foundation takes a robust approach to grantmaking that is long-term, resident-driven, and data-driven, integrating capacity-building support throughout partnerships with grantees that often last over a decade. This approach has resulted in significant development including new homes, strengthened commercial corridors, renovated community centers, safer parks, and more. The foundation has facilitated these outcomes by building the capacity of nonprofits and residents alike to continue to plan for and make lasting change in their communities even after the initiatives are complete.

Investing for the Long Haul

Long-term investing is in the foundation’s DNA. When two legacy banks—CoreStates Bank and First Union—merged in 1998, the endowed foundation was created to ensure that local communities didn’t lose the generous and focused support provided by CoreStates, which was known for its commitment to philanthropy and community development.

The merged entity was eventually acquired by Wells Fargo, which currently employs all five of the foundation’s staff members and carries on CoreStates’ legacy of community support.

WFRF initially experimented with different types of community development grants. The foundation knew that communities in their geographic footprint faced deeply rooted challenges like poverty.

“We knew that we were addressing a long-term problem, so we needed a long-term solution,” said Lois Greco, senior vice president and evaluation officer at the foundation. “You wouldn’t buy a house with a one-year loan. So why would you make a one-year grant to fund a 20-year solution?”

Head over to GrantCraft to continue reading.

November Must-Reads

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This month, we were reminded of how hard it is to make changes within an organization, and we also got advice on a specific type of change: making boards more diverse. We heard concrete tips on how to gather feedback from those we seek to serve. And we were reminded of good foundation practices from funding capacity building to assessing performance.

What caught your attention this month?

1. How to Fund Capacity Building Well

CAPACITY BUILDING | India Development Review | 5-minute read

Funding isn’t always enough; nonprofits also need the right kind of capacity-building support at the right times. This blog post shares insights on when it’s most crucial to fund capacity building for grassroots organizations, how to understand the areas in which nonprofits most need support, how to measure the impact of capacity-building funding, and how capacity building is a lot like running a restaurant.

Did you see our new GrantCraft case studies on capacity building?

2. Tools and Lessons to Make Listening to Clients Feasible

LEARNING & EVALUATION | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 19-minute audio slideshow

Gathering feedback from clients and those you seek to serve can lead to invaluable insight. This audio slideshow shares a five-step process (developed by the Listen for Good initiative of Fund for Shared Insight) to truly listen to clients, collect data, interpret it, and respond to it.

3. Why Are We Still Struggling with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Nonprofit Governance?

EQUITY | Nonprofit Quarterly | 18-minute read

Many nonprofits recognize that nonprofit board diversity matters, so why has it remained stagnant overall? The writer shares insights from a panel discussion at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action conference, providing several actionable frameworks and highlighting the panelists’ thoughts on:

  • how to reach beyond your social circles to identify board candidates of color
  • how to create mechanisms to hold yourself accountable
  • how to avoid tokenism and redistribute power

4. Streamlining Is Change, and Change Isn’t Easy

CHANGE MANAGEMENT | Peak Grantmaking | 5-minute read

“Change efforts meet confusion and resistance, even when the change is sensible and desired,” writes Dr. Streamline, also known as Jessica Bearman, for Peak Grantmaking. Bearman walks through the Change Curve, a framework that shows the predictable reactions people have to change over time, and several factors that may speed up or slow down the process. Though Bearman talks about making changes to grantmaking practices, the change management process she describes shows up in all types of organizations and situations.

5. Understanding & Sharing What Works: The State of Foundation Practice

LEARNING & EVALUATION | Center for Effective Philanthropy | 24-minute read

It can be hard to assess how well a foundation is performing. This new Center for Effective Philanthropy report shares how well private and community foundation leaders think they understand what’s working in their program work, how they use knowledge to make decisions, and what knowledge they share with others. The report includes discussion questions for foundation staff and boards of directors and is accompanied by a separate set of profiles of learning practices at Weingart Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Communities Foundation of Texas, and Impetus-PEF.

Want more content like this? Get our monthly must-reads and other blog posts delivered to your inbox.

Gain Success With These Five Elements of Capacity Building

elements of capacity building
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

August Must-Reads

Photo of a woman using her phone in a coffee shop
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Each month, we gather five new resources that can help us work smarter, think more deeply, and more effectively contribute to the change we seek. This month’s reads include initial results from the Ford Foundation’s BUILD initiative, how Democracy Fund is adapting its strategies in changing times, the Meyer Foundation’s data showing the importance of leadership development, reasons that Native American organizations and causes are chronically underfunded, and economists’ arguments against randomized control trials.


1. One of the Country’s Largest Foundations is Trying to Change How Philanthropy Works

STRATEGY | Inside Philanthropy | 13-minute read

The Ford Foundation’s BUILD initiative is changing how the foundation works by providing social justice nonprofits with long-term grants for general operating support and organizational strengthening. Two years in, BUILD is starting to see positive results: organizations are planning and collaborating in ways they never could before. This blog post shares some early results and the BUILD director Kathy Reich’s hope to make this type of grantmaking the status quo not just for the foundation but for the whole philanthropic sector.

2. Adapting Long-term Strategies in Times of Profound Change

STRATEGY | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 6-minute read

Imagine you carefully crafted a set of long-term strategies, and then something happens to change the context in which you’re working. How can you shift your approach to this new context? After the U.S. presidential election, Democracy Fund—like many organizations—grappled with this situation. The foundation had just completed a two-year planning process when the election brought upheaval around the very issues they chose to focus on (elections, governance and the public square). In this blog post, Democracy Fund shares what they’ve learned and three ways other foundations can equip themselves to better respond to changing contexts.

3. How Investing in People Directly Supports Programs

CAPACITY BUILDING | Fund the People | 4-minute read

It may seem wise to prioritize capacity building for fundraising over leadership development, especially for organizations with tight budgets. And yet, data from the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation’s capacity-building investments show that non-financial related capacity building had a greater positive impact on organizations’ revenue. The Meyer Foundation president and CEO Nicky Goren shares why professional and leadership development is core to an organization’s ability to produce better and bigger results.

4. New First Nations Report Explores Why Philanthropy Continues to Underfund Native American Causes

EQUITY | Business Insider | 4-minute read

Large foundations’ giving to Native American organizations and causes is declining. This report by First Nations Development Institute shares what might be leading to the chronic underfunding of Native American communities and causes. In addition to elevating several underlying reasons and addressing common misconceptions about Native American communities, the report also includes recommendations for both foundations and nonprofits, including the importance of making site visits and supporting Native Americans’ careers in philanthropy.

5. The Foreign Aid System Is Broken. Randomized Control Trials Won’t Fix It.

EVALUATION | Bright Magazine | 8-minute read

Evaluating impact through randomized control trials may work well in medicine, but not in social change, argues Barbara Harriss-White, one of 15 leading economists—including three Nobel Prize winners—who wrote a letter speaking out against “aid effectiveness.” In this interview, she shares why the group thinks randomized control trials won’t help us address systemic root problems and might cause more harm than good.

Get our monthly must-reads and other blog posts delivered to your inbox.

June Must-Reads

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Each month, we gather five new resources that can help us work smarter, think more deeply and more effectively create the change we want to see in this complex world. This month’s reads cover ways funders can support refugees and asylum seekers, equitable systems change, lessons from capacity-building cohorts, how grantmakers can help nonprofits measure impact and reflections on civil society today.

1. Philanthropic Strategies to Support Refugees and Asylum Seekers

STRATEGY | Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees

This new report comes at a crucial time as needs surge among refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. In it, you’ll find 10 case studies of how grantmakers—including Open Society Foundations, Weingart Foundation, Robin Hood and others of various structures, sizes and geographic priorities—are supporting newcomers. Their strategies shed light on the diverse ways grantmakers can take a more active role, while the lessons learned and recommendations highlight the need for grantmakers to collaborate, think systemically, take holistic approaches, leverage their convening power and more.

2. Systems Change with an Equity Lens: Community Interventions that Shift Power and Center Race

EQUITY | Management Assistance Group and Building Movement Project

As we see more attention to racism and other injustices, we’re also seeing greater urgency and commitment to not only improve systems but disrupt and transform them. Yet dominant approaches to systems change typically don’t integrate an intentional racial equity lens. This webinar introduces a framework with four key components that distinguish systems change with an equity lens from other systems change efforts and features speakers Lauren Padilla-Valverde, Senior Program Manager at the California Endowment, and Reverend Joan C. Ross of the North End Woodward Community Coalition.

3. Learning Together: Building Capacity and Relationships

CAPACITY BUILDING | David and Lucile Packard Foundation

For the past five years, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has worked with grantees and other funders to co-design capacity-building cohorts. Based on a recent evaluation, those cohorts are working: 99 percent of participants said their capacity in the focus area increased as a result of participating in the cohort project, and 100 percent of participants reported that they benefited from the peer-learning format. Along with their evaluation results, the foundation shares five recommendations that emerged for other funders planning cohort-based capacity building projects.

4. 8 Ways Grantmakers Can Help Nonprofits Measure Impact

LEARNING & EVALUATION | Chronicle of Philanthropy

Using evaluation data to assess long-term change and learn for improvement requires a shift for many grantmakers and nonprofits who are more accustomed to using data to report on programmatic outcomes as an accountability measure. Organizations need time, skill and money to make this shift, and experts say grantmakers aren’t providing the level of support that would help nonprofits use evaluation as a tool for learning and improvement. This resource shares eight ways grantmakers can help organizations measure—and maximize—their impact.

5. Civil Society for the 21st Century

SECTOR TRENDS | Stanford Social Innovation Review

In this new Independent Sector–led series, contributing authors share their thoughts on civil society, defined as the vast, undefined space between the individual and the state. What does it look like today for individuals to organize around the things that matter to them and advance shared goals? The series will explore civil society and its origins, evolution, boundaries, blind spots, values, variety, obstacles and opportunities.

Get our monthly must-reads and other blog posts delivered to your inbox.

May Must-Reads

Photo of a woman using her phone in a coffee shop
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Each month, we’ll be gathering five new resources that can help us work smarter, think more deeply, and create the change we want to see in this complex world. This month’s reads cover equitable grantmaking, impact evaluations, capacity building in a time of disruption, an argument against fairness, and framing issues to make progress.

1. Power Moves

EQUITY | National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

This toolkit is a very thorough, actionable resource to guide foundations in examining how well they build, share and wield power. To truly strive for and advance equity and justice, the toolkit states, you have to understand your own power and privilege. The toolkit includes best practices, sample questions to gather data and solicit feedback, discussion guides, and next steps and tools for implementing changes.

2. Bracing for a Downturn: Nonprofits, Charitable Deduction Worries, and How Foundations Can Help

STRATEGY | The Center for Effective Philanthropy

This survey shows how nonprofit and foundation leaders view the implications of the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In short, most of them are concerned that charitable giving might go down. The survey also highlights suggestions for how foundations can help nonprofits such as supporting their efforts to raise money and be financially sustainable, helping them and their donors understand the effects of this legislation, and promoting the importance of nonprofits.

3. The New Normal: Capacity Building During a Time of Disruption


How is the current economic and political environment impacting the capacity building needs of social change leaders, nonprofits, networks and movements? How are funders responding to these changing needs, and how can they better support this work going forward? This new report shares findings on what nonprofits need most right now and recommendations for how nonprofits and foundations can meet those needs.

4. Ten Reasons Not to Measure Impact—and What to Do Instead

LEARNING & EVALUATION | University of Washington and Northwestern University

Subscription Required – Impact evaluations—while important—are only a good investment in the right circumstances, argue the authors in this Stanford Social Innovation Review article. When circumstances aren’t right, organizations must build an internal culture in which the right data are regularly collected, analyzed and applied. For more on how to build this type of culture, take a look at our blog post on creating a culture of learning through evaluation.

5. Picture This: How We Frame Issues Matters for Social Change

STRATEGY | The Communications Network and FrameWorks Institute 

The way we frame issues profoundly influences our understanding of them and how we approach solutions. This Stanford Social Innovation Review series shares how framing issues of gun violence, sexual violence, immigration, climate change, aging, addiction and housing have helped spark meaningful dialogues and drive change. As we’ve found in our own research, communications must be viewed as a critical piece of strategy in order to make large-scale change.

Get our monthly must-reads and other blog posts delivered to your inbox.