Community Foundations’ Steps Toward Equitable Funding Practices

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Community foundations play a vital role directing resources to areas of greatest community need — especially in times of crisis. In a year marked by dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on systemic racism, many community foundations have stepped into leadership roles that were entirely new to them. They have established COVID response funds that are distributing resources to support relief and recovery for their communities. Many — through grantmaking, donor education, convening, and advocacy — are playing an active role in helping their communities face histories of racism and oppression and shaping strategies to advance racial equity.

As community foundations stretch in new ways to respond to community needs, many are thinking differently about their role, their value proposition to donors, and how they assess impact.

Recognizing that many community foundations are already playing this role, we wanted to learn more about how they are doing so. Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations, representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. In addition, we reached out to four philanthropic intermediary organizations that are structured differently from community foundations and have an emphasis on funding social justice organizations, grassroots organizations, and/or organizations led by people of color. These interviews yielded insight into how community foundations might think differently about their role and practices they could consider to deepen engagement with communities and donors.

Interestingly, most of the community foundations we spoke with had, in the past few years, adapted their mission statements to name a commitment to advancing racial equity in their community. This affects how these foundations identify organizations to fund through their discretionary grantmaking, the conversations they have with donors, and how they think about their impact. It also affects who has access to the foundation’s resources — both on the discretionary grantmaking side and from donor-advised gifts.

View the full report here. Findings from our research focus on three themes:

  • How and why more community foundations are forming a point of view on racial equity — and how that affects how they work with donors
  • Ways community foundations are fostering connections between donors and nonprofits
  • Evolving thinking about assessing impact

If you are connected to a community foundation, we’d love to hear how these themes resonate with your experience. How is your local community foundation showing leadership in your community? What questions is your community foundation grappling with? Send us a note on Twitter @WeDreamForward or email Lori Bartczak at


⇒ Read the Report


Special Opportunity: Community foundation cohort

Community Wealth Partners is planning a peer learning cohort for community foundations interested in finding new ways to foster connections between donors and nonprofits, starting in January 2021. If you are connected to a community foundation that is looking to adopt new practices to help connect donors with grassroots organizations, nonprofits serving communities of color, and/or organizations led by people of color, this cohort might be of interest to you. Contact Lori Bartczak to learn more.

Conversations with the Arizona Community Foundation

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The Arizona Community Foundation has been on a journey to redefine how they measured impact and respond amid the pandemic. In this series of one-minute videos, you can hear some quick takes from Steve Seleznow (President and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation) on community foundations’ value proposition, impact measurement, their role during times of crisis, and equitable grantmaking amid COVID-19. Watch the videos here and below, and read a more in-depth Q&A with Steve on these topics here.

How might community foundations think about their value proposition?

“[Donors] choose to work with us because they want that relationship and they believe there’s value in the relationship we have and there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge to help them achieve what they want in the community.”

How might community foundations think about measuring impact?

“There are certain things I think I can measure from our grantmaking, … and there are many things that I know to my heart are really great work and are having some level of impact that I don’t think I can measure.”

What role should community foundations play during times of crisis?

“At the heart of a community foundation is the middle name: community. So when our community is in distress, as one of our core values requires us to do, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us.”

How can COVID-19 rapid response funds lead to more equitable grantmaking?

“Through this process, many new nonprofits that typically weren’t on our radar and probably never got a grant from us in the past now got on our radar.”

Read the full conversation here.

Defining Impact and Responding to COVID-19: A Q&A with the Arizona Community Foundation

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In 2018, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) decided to redefine how they measured impact. The foundation, which focuses on mobilizing philanthropy throughout the state of Arizona, had been successful by standard measures. Over 10 years, their assets under management had grown from $400 million to just over $1 billion. But beyond dollars, they needed a clearer and more nuanced picture of their impact on donors, nonprofits, and communities. In partnership with Community Wealth Partners, ACF created a new impact model and vison for building a culture of philanthropy. In this vision, donors, grantees, and community foundations work in collaboration to contribute to greater impact for each of them individually. Since then, the foundation has found early evidence of a culture of philanthropy and affirmed their unique value proposition amid an environment in which commercial financial institutions were threatening their sustainability and, more recently, as COVID-19 heightened and increased community needs.

In May 2020, Sara Brenner (president of Community Wealth Partners) sat down with Steve Seleznow (president and CEO of ACF) through a virtual interview to discuss ACF’s view on impact, how they engage donors, their response to COVID-19, and more. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity, and below are the highlights. You can also watch a series of one-minute excerpts from the conversation here.

Sara Brenner: A couple of years ago, your team decided to redefine what impact means for your work. I’d love to start there and hear why that was important for the foundation and what challenges you wanted to address.

Steve Seleznow: I found the existing tools and methods wholly inadequate to measure how we were supporting our donors, what donors were doing through grantmaking, and the tangible results in supporting our communities across Arizona. Every time I tried to apply models that I’d learned from private philanthropy or nimble venture philanthropy, I came up short. I had seen plenty of false precision being used to define the impact of grants, and I wanted none of it. I was challenged to find a better way for measuring impact for our community foundation.

Working together with Community Wealth Partners, we discussed the donor relationships we created and how that develops and grows over time. What we decided to test was whether or not ACF could support a culture of philanthropy through the work of relationship managers and donors. Could we move donors from transactional to transformational? It was an amazing journey, and we learned a great deal about our expertise and connectivity within the community and how it supported our donors’ ability to be more connected to the causes they were passionate about, increasing impact for both our donors and the nonprofits they support.

Brenner: Through our early work together, part of what we began to explore was how donors changed through the work with ACF in their knowledge, actions, and behavior. I wonder if you could share a little about what you learned about donors.

Seleznow: We’re a very donor-centric community foundation. At the heart of what we do is engage directly with donors, understand their charitable goals, and help them become more effective philanthropists. What this journey clarified for us was that the way we engage donors is core to what we do, our growth, and our ability to have positive impact in the community. Donors have many choices – they could work with Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, or J.P. Morgan Chase, and they don’t. They choose us because they want that personal relationship. They believe there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge and help them achieve what they want for their community.

“Donors choose us because they want that personal relationship. They believe there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge and help them achieve what they want for their community.”

Brenner: Through this process, we worked together to identify three archetypes of ACF donors. How do you understand those archetypes, and how does the foundation work differently with those donors now?

Seleznow: We crystalized three archetypes. No one archetype is better than the other; they’re three different types of donor. There are donors who have a very clear idea of who they want to give to and how much they want to give, and they rarely veer from that. They’re what we call supporters. They support a nonprofit or group of nonprofits, and their support endures through time. The nonprofits tell us those supporters are essential because they offer a sustainable form of capital that nonprofits count on year after year. So we place great value on that type of supporter giving. There are some donors who stay there and some who morph into something we define as an investor. An investor is the donor who sees their donation as an investment in a nonprofit or a small group of nonprofits where they want to get really engaged and make a difference for the cause. They want to sit on the board, know the CEO, know the board of directors, visit, and sometimes volunteer. They invest their time and charitable dollars in supporting and growing that organization. They typically give larger grants. The third category is the multiplier, the person interested in leverage. “I’m going to put up $100,000 to invest in this organization that I love, but I want to find five other donors who will do it with me, and I want to multiply my donation of $100,000 by five. Can you help me find five other donors?” They want to multiply everything they do. They’re very entrepreneurial and believe their talent is best used engaging with a nonprofit and getting others to invest along with them. This results in multiplying their investments. Multipliers often engage in bigger systems change because they are more invested individually and through the people they have recruited to support the cause.

“Donor archetypes help us know who we’re working with and how we can help them achieve their philanthropic goals.”

What that means is we now have a lens to filter and use to define as we begin working with donors or bringing in new donors. Who seems to lean toward being a multiplier? Who’s an investor? Who’s a supporter? We now use those lenses to assess where we think a donors is. A donor can change, but it helps us know who we’re working with and how we can help them achieve their philanthropic goals.

Brenner: Are there moments you’re seeing the community at large work differently and in greater collaboration because of COVID-19?

Seleznow: It was almost immediate that the philanthropic sector in Arizona came together to unify our efforts. We didn’t want donors to have to decide between response efforts, and we wanted to centralize grantmaking so we could be more efficient and timely in getting immediate relief funding out to the nonprofits.

The Valley of the Sun United Way serves the greater Phoenix region and works with an identified group of about 60-80 partner nonprofits. The Arizona Community Foundation serves every county in Arizona. So we decided to set up two platforms – one with Valley of the Sun United Way and one with ACF. They would generate funding from their donor base, and we, from ours. The corporate sector could choose to support the funds based on where they wanted their dollars to go (local or statewide). We agreed to review all grants for the greater Phoenix region together to make sure there was no duplication and ensure we both could respond quickly with the needed support.

The other part that I think advanced philanthropic collaboration was the grants review panel we put in place. We didn’t want the nonprofit sector to think favoritism existed in the grantmaking process. The review panel consisted of ACF staff, nonprofit leaders, corporate contributors, and a few individual donors. We invited the major funders to have a representative on the review team, and we included the president and CEO of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits on the review team. These representatives could see every nonprofit that applied, who got grants, and how much they received. The process was transparent and inclusive. That made a huge difference, advanced our relationships, led to greater trust within the nonprofit sector, and provided full transparency for all of the dollars contributed by donors and corporate and philanthropic partners.

Brenner: We know that small, grassroots organizations often led by leaders of color can be left out of funding. I’m curious how equity played out in decision making for the rapid response fund and how you think it should play out in the future?

Seleznow: We put together a diverse group of people to review the grants. The panel had to include the community and reflect the diversity of the community – diversity in terms of region, race, gender, identity, and sector. Because we widely marketed the fund – and thanks to the Arizona Republic which ran three full-page ads in the newspaper announcing the fund – we were able to identify dozens of nonprofits we didn’t know. There are about 22,000 nonprofits in Arizona. Through this process, many nonprofits we had not previously worked with were identified and provided grants. And we’ve been cataloguing these nonprofits so that whatever the new normal is, we have a more inclusive catalogue of nonprofits doing amazing work and a new opportunity to achieve greater equity in our grantmaking.

COVID-19 has also brought to light issues of inequity. When schools closed, we saw the digital divide. Everybody could see that not all kids had computers or reliable internet service. So when schools went online, that meant a large numbers of kids – kids who are poor, kids of color – were not getting educated. Then we saw the data on who’s getting COVID-19 – by race, by community. Here in Arizona, Navajo Nation is suffering tremendously. Historically – for centuries – that community’s health needs have not been properly addressed. We’ve seen large numbers of African American and Latino families impacted. We saw who got laid off first and who is being hardest hit by the loss of a paycheck. If you look at the numbers, you see that this crisis is disproportionately hitting people of color and people without economic means. If this is not the time to aggressively address these issues, then when will we?

“If this is not the time to aggressively address inequity, then when will we?”

Brenner: You’ve talked about two phases to this crisis: emergency response and reconstruction. As we move toward reconstruction, what is the role of community foundations and how do you see that changing?

“When our community is suffering, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us. We need to be willing to do things we’ve never done.”

Seleznow: At the heart of a community foundation is in the name: community. When our community is suffering, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us. We need to be willing to do things we’ve never done. I’ll give you an example. We work with a corporate partner that wanted to create a relief fund for small businesses that were serving low-income neighborhoods and employing members of that community. We checked with our lawyers, and we could very clearly define a public benefit. If those small businesses went out of business, those communities would suffer from the loss of jobs, income, and the essential services provided by those businesses. While we’ve never done anything like it before, we said yes. The community needed this service, it clearly has a public benefit, so we’re taking it on.

Brenner: What ideas do you have for engaging donors in ways that keep equity at the center?

Seleznow: If we see inequity in our community and we’re talking to a donor about education grants they want to make, then we have an obligation to say that achieving educational equity is an important part of what they achieve for their grantmaking. It’s our obligation to make sure donors are informed and educated on the inequities that exist and have the data behind it to understand the proven set of facts. If you want this community to offer a better quality of life for all, you’ve got to find out who has been left behind because of inequity. Maybe you’ll want to invest in this, and here’s how you can do it.

Brenner: What closing advice do you have for other community foundations trying to understand their impact in new ways?

Seleznow: I hesitate to tell my colleagues how they should think, but I would say: I had to do a lot of self-examination to be really honest with myself about impact. Take a hard look at your ego and how you define your impact – “We’ve changed our city.” “We’ve changed our state.” There are certain things we can measure from our grantmaking, and there are many things creating a positive impact that I don’t think we can measure. Be honest about that. Don’t say, “Because I can’t measure it, it’s not worthwhile,” but don’t go down the path of not measuring anything either. Figure out what you’re really about, how to measure that, and where you should pivot to create the most impact.

Guest Blog: Redefining How Our Community Foundation Creates Impact

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By standard measures, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) had been quite successful. Over nearly 10 years, our assets under management grew from $400 million to over $1 billion. We all knew there was more to understand and communicate about our contribution to community impact. In my interactions with donors, I heard story after story about the transformation they, personally, had experienced by giving. In conversations with nonprofit leaders, I heard stories of the impact that grants from our donors had made, especially larger grants.

Yet assets under management – the standard measure of a community foundation’s performance – completely failed to capture the nuance of our impact on donors, partner nonprofits, and our community. Making matters worse, conventional evaluation research and impact assessment did not lend itself to the kind of grantmaking we did. We needed a way to measure and share social metrics, among other performance indicators, so we could tell a more nuanced story of impact, and we needed to find methods aligned to what we actually did and who we actually served. This was especially important given the wide variation of our grantmaking, much of it advised. For instance, conventional measurement did not address the impact of a donor who granted $1,000 annually to a single nonprofit year after year for 25 years, much less 25 other donors who did the same with their favorite nonprofit. But clearly something had to be happening in that sustained interplay. Was that being measured in any way? Could it be measured? Was it even worthy of formal impact assessment?

At the same time, ACF, like other community foundations, was feeling increasing pressure from critics of donor-advised funds (DAFs) on one side, and commercial financial institutions building a massive DAF business on the other. It was evident that we needed to tell our story of why our DAFs and the resources that flow from them are essential for supporting our communities. But we also needed to make a clearer case about our direct impact on donors themselves. We believed that with us, our donors had qualitatively better experiences and created greater impact, and we wanted to determine if we could measure it.

A New Impact Model

We engaged Community Wealth Partners, a social impact consulting firm, to help us create a new model for articulating our impact. That new model shows our vision for building a culture of philanthropy, which is how we describe the ways donors, grantees, and community foundations interact, causing each party to grow and transform. Through interactions with grantees, donors deepen their understanding of social issues. Through interactions with donors, grantees gain financial resources and social capital to further their missions. ACF facilitates these relationships by connecting donors and grantees, advising donors on how to leverage their giving for greater impact, and managing the grants that are essential to a nonprofit’s operations. Over time, we believe these relationships lead donors to contribute more funds and deepen their engagement with nonprofits, allowing grantees to offer more and better services and contribute to a stronger Arizona over longer periods of time.

Community Wealth Partners set out to test whether there was evidence of this culture of philanthropy among our donors and grantees. They interviewed a small sample of donors (50) and probed for changes in their knowledge, mindsets, or giving behaviors since starting their philanthropy with ACF. With grantees, Community Wealth Partners sought to understand how ACF donors’ support, both financial and non-financial, helped further their missions. The goal of this work was to identify any initial evidence of a culture of philanthropy and provide guidance on how our foundation could advance it. We knew that measuring transformation in donors and grantees is an imperfect science. Donors are complex individuals influenced by a myriad of factors; grantees are supported by many funders and donors, not just those who give through ACF. Community Wealth Partners approached this research determined to avoid oversimplified models suggesting donor and grantee behavior could be fully explained or predicted.

Early Indications of a Culture of Philanthropy

The early results from this research have far exceeded our initial expectations. The study of donors revealed important insights about the ways in which their knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors were changing. We learned that through giving, most donors increased their knowledge of social issues (70%), while a smaller group changed their understanding of a problem (36%) or shifted their giving behavior (45%). One donor described how his experience with an organization serving first-generation college students shifted his perspective as he grew to better understand the challenges and motivations of those students. Because of the experience, he said, there are “lots of issues I [now] see from a wholly different perspective.” Other donors described changes to their giving behavior, having learned how they can deepen their impact by giving differently. For example, one donor consciously decided to give only unrestricted gifts after seeing the flexibility that these gifts afford nonprofits.

Through donor interviews, Community Wealth Partners identified important ways ACF could better support donors in their giving. These insights led us to renovate our office space so that we can break down silos and collaborate better, create a team of senior leaders to streamline our processes, and segment our donors to ensure we provide tailored support to meet their needs. By studying grantees, we learned how donors can better leverage their dollars to support nonprofits’ missions. This includes giving responsively to a nonprofit’s needs, rather than restricting funds according to an idiosyncratic or narrow priority; giving reliably year after year to provide an income stream that nonprofits can count on; and offering social capital in the form of connections, board service, or specialized skills. These are behaviors ACF can encourage any donor – regardless of resources – to adopt.

The Value of Community Foundations

Community foundations’ greatest value, and unique value proposition, is that they are deeply rooted in the community. They support donors in deepening their connection and impact in the community, and they are far more in-touch with community needs and assets than commercial providers. Using this framework can deepen a community foundation’s understanding of why its donors give and uncover ways to better support donors in their philanthropy and in their evolution as philanthropists

Podcast: Making Change through Coalitions

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Coalitions have to grapple with complex issues. They need strategies bold enough to inspire people to get involved but believable enough that people think it can happen. They need to address mistrust among members and with communities. They need to undo some structures they’ve built and find new ways of working.

In this two-part series, Community Wealth Partners’ president Sara Brenner talks with Vitalyst Health Foundation’s Spark podcast. about findings from research on what contributes to transformational change. In Part One, she shares the four stages of the social transformation lifecycle, as well as a story about a coalition. In Part Two, she walks through ten key elements that can help coalitions drive change that lasts.


“If we take step back and think about how we feel in the work, we realize we’re coming up against resistance all the time. Where are those points where we’re stuck, and why are we stuck? When people talk about being stuck, it’s usually because of the dynamics they have with other partners or people within their own organizations. ‘We’re unable to move on an issue because we haven’t worked through a difference in perspective or some kind of competition or a challenge or distrust or our own ambitions are at the forefront rather than the ambition of the cause.’ What we suggest coalitions or organizations do is spend some time building their culture intentionally.” —Sara Brenner


February Must-Reads

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This month brought insight for nonprofits and grantmakers looking to better engage community members, think more concretely about power, and embed equity in their organizations and their evaluation practices. It also brought advice for grantmakers on tuning in to what nonprofits need most.

What caught your attention this month?

1. The Time is Now to Embed Equity in Evaluation Practices

LEARNING & EVALUATION | Center for Effective Philanthropy | 6-minute read

Evaluation can, and should, be used in service of equity, says Jara Dean-Coffey of the Equitable Evaluation Initiative. As the primary purchasers and users of evaluation in the social sector, funders play a critical role in this. Rather than tweak their approach to evaluation, funders should reconsider their approach altogether. Dean-Coffey shares three principles in which new evaluation practices should be rooted and invites funders to consider four questions when engaging in evaluative work.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 6-minute read

The better that city government officials understand residents’ lives, the more effective policy they can create. Yet doing so often takes time, money, and a willingness to experiment. After a year of researching how nonprofits, philanthropy, and local government in Philadelphia engaged with community members, the authors identified three ways social sector leaders can bring together the expertise of residents and city government.

EQUITY | Human Impact Partners | 6-minute read

Public health is increasingly focused on “upstream” causes, looking beyond individual behavior to health disparities. While this shift is leading to important interventions, “slightly upstream” work is not equity work, writes Nashira Baril, project director at Human Impact Partners. Baril argues that the field needs to recognize racism as a root cause of health inequity, but beyond that, it must recognize when “upstream” approaches are accommodating people within an inequitable system rather than shifting the system itself.

4. Race to Lead: Women of Color in the Nonprofit Sector

EQUITY | Building Movement Project | Executive summary: 5-minute read; Full report: 60-minute read

Women of color in the nonprofit sector face big obstacles to their advancement, reveals the newest report in Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead series. The report highlights key findings from a survey of more than 4,000 nonprofit staff and includes several calls to action for how the sector can change inequitable systems, how organizations can change, and how individuals can support each other to ensure a fair and supportive workplace for women of color.

STRATEGY | National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy | 9-minute read

Many of us in the social sector use the word “power” a lot, but what exactly do we mean when we say it? In this blog post, the president of the Chorus Foundation, Farhad Ebrahimi, outlines three types of power, encouraging readers to distinguish among these types of power and consider each type within the broader ecosystem of power:

  • Political Power: The ability to influence or control collective decision-making
  • Economic Power: The ability to produce, distribute, trade, or consume goods and services
  • Cultural Power: The ability to influence or control how we perceive and what we believe about the world around us

For more on shifting organizational culture, explore our field guide for creating a change-making culture.

Bonus article: How Grant Makers Can Tune In to What Nonprofits Need Most

(Requires a subscription to the Chronicle of Philanthropy)

GRANTMAKING STRATEGY | Chronicle of Philanthropy | 6-minute read

To better meet grantees’ needs, the Ford Foundation requested an independent analysis of its grantmaking practices. The analysis showed that more than half of the foundation’s grantees suffered from frequent or chronic budget deficits, and 40 percent had fewer than three months of reserves. In this blog post, Hillary Pennington and Kathy Reich of the Ford Foundation write that, as they listened to grantees in one-on-one conversations, they heard “we were exacerbating these problems by our approach to grantmaking,” an approach that included elements like funding one year and one project at a time. They heard from grantees a deeply felt need for funding for indirect costs. This blog post demonstrates how funders can ask themselves hard questions, invest time and money in understanding the answers, deeply listen to grantees and communities, share transparently about what they learn, and make changes in response.

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November Must-Reads

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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.

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August Must-Reads 2018

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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.

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June Must-Reads 2018

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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.

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May Must-Reads 2018

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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.

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