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Partnership & Matching Endowments

Our Foundation helps disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We do this through organizations such as schools, universities and non-profits. We chose carefully. We think of ourselves as investors and look for organizations with smart, energetic people, good ideas and alignment of interest. Once we make the decision to invest, these organizations become our partners.

The term “partner” is often used loosely. What do we mean?

The Foundation and its grantee may be in a joint venture to help people, but it is the group photo with a johnson scholarship recipientgrantee that actually does the work. We are mutually dependent. Everything else flows from this simple truism.

So what does this look like? In scholarship programs, partnership often involves building an endowment over a period of years, in addition to student scholarships. Some grant makers will not fund endowments; they prefer more immediate need. We think that endowments are a means to build grantee capacity and ensure that scholarships will continue to be granted after we have moved on. They also provide leverage for Foundation grants. Most of our endowment grants are matched 2, 3 and even 4 to 1 by other donors.

The Foundation has made matching scholarship grants at all of the State Universities in Florida. It has used matching grants to help build endowments at University of Central Florida and its Direct Connect partners, Eastern Florida, Lake Sumter, Seminole and Valencia CollegesUniversity of Florida; University of South Florida; and University of West Florida. It is presently in negotiations with two more state universities in Florida.

people talking at a receptionOutside of Florida, the Foundation has used its matching endowments to build capacity at tribal colleges and universities serving Indigenous Peoples. Two of the Foundation’s largest and most effective scholarship programs operate at tribal colleges that it has not funded for many years, namely Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota and Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation, Montana. Matching grants have helped to build scholarship endowments at other tribal colleges, the American Indian College Fund, and several universities that serve Indigenous Peoples.

One of our first matching endowments was to endow the City Music
program at Berklee College of Music. City Music is a program that engages, mentors and educates underserved youth in order to encourage them to finish school and pursue post-secondary education. We funded all aspects of this program from its beginning in Boston entrepreneurship scholarship reception group phototo its expansion to other locations. Many years ago we helped Berklee to build a multi-million dollar scholarship endowment for City Music and today the City Music Network has 40 partners in diverse locations, including Canada.

From the examples given above (and numerous others) matching endowment grants have proven an excellent vehicle for partnership between the Foundation and its grantees. It is a reliable strategy to leverage grant money and to help grantees to build capacity. At the end of a successful matching grant, the grantee is stronger and more independent. It has the endowment and, even more important, an enhanced fundraising capacity. It is better equipped to carry on with its work (and thereby advance the Foundation’s mission) and the Foundation is free to move on to other opportunities.



3 Ways to Better Tell Your Organization’s Story

Our Board and staff recently met with Dr. Malia Villegas of the National Congress of American Indians. During our time together, Dr. Villegas discussed the power of narrative. In her extensive work with Indigenous Peoples, she has found that “Storytelling is an essential part of community transformations.” The story that we tell about a place, about a people, about a project, all have the power to either “deepen or constrain [our] impact.”

So what can we do? How can we be sure to honor the people and places with which we work the stories that we tell and the narrative that we weave?

  1. Collect Data

The most impactful stories have their root in accurate information. Prior to weaving a narrative, do the work to collect and analyze data. Data is the first step and gives a point ofman looking towards two younger men at a table reference that can guide your steps further into the heart of the story.

Our grantee partners at the Martin Family Initiative (MFI) are good at letting data begin the story, but not complete it. MFI “seeks to improve elementary and secondary school education outcomes for Aboriginal Canadians through the implementation of specific programs and the application of appropriate research.” They know that 1 in 3 Aboriginal persons has not completed high school. And they understand that only half of Canadians claim any understanding of Aboriginal issues. These data points – and many more – guide the work of MFI. Because of this, they are best able to help the narrative of Aboriginal people in Canada become one of success, resilience and hope.

  1. Listen Beyond the Data

Research indicates that first generation college students graduate with college degrees at a drastically lower rate than their peers. But theses statistics are not the story.

To go beyond the data, the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program (MFOS) has spent good time listening the first-generation students and understanding the challengesgroup photo at a reception they face throughout their college education. No piece of data can encapsu
late the guilt a first-generation student might feel when leave home to go to school or what it must be like to have no frame of reference when it comes to signing up for classes. By listening to these pieces of information, MFOS has created a program that truly meets the needs of students, rewriting their story and instilling in them that they deserve a college education.

  1. Recognize the Larger Story

The Marriot Bridges from School to Work program works diligently to place qualified people with disabilities in successful work environments. The national unemployment rate among youth ages 16-24 stands at 16%; factor in disability and young adults are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers. Bridges recognizes that young man in a kitchenpeople with disabilities only represent a small fraction of the unemployment narrative. The larger story of the problem lies within inaccessible systems that prevent proper accommodations and success in the workplace in addition to unqualified workers. Understanding this has allowed Bridges to engage with both employers and potential employees in a manner that allows everyone to achieve success.

Everyone has a story to tell. As Dr. Villegas teaches us, how we tell it and how we share it will either “deepen or constrain your impact.” What story will you tell?


The Importance of Partnerships and Sustainability

As a Grant writer and Development professional I’m an avid consumer of industry journals, webinars, TED Talks, and all types of professional development literature. Apart from my own nerdy interest in the non-profit sector, I’ve found that keeping a finger on the pulse of trends and changes in development and fundraising makes me a more effective advocate for the Olmsted Center for Sight, and aids me in writing more impactful grant prtwo women shaking hands across a tableoposals for the agency’s many programs.

In recent months one of the most reoccurring themes I’ve come across is the need to efficiently articulate your agency’s sustainability when applying for grant funding. While financial sustainability is typically what comes to mind, budget sheets and revenue statements never completely encapsulate the health and longevity of an organization or program. Foundations and grantors often want to know about:

  • The role your Board of Directors plays in the agency
  • How the agency retains talented staff and executives
  • How the agency utilizes volunteers
  • If the agency has a strategic plan and how they use it
  • The agency’s relationships with other organizations (both non-profit and for-profit)

That last one (relationships) is of particular importance. Successful non-profit organizations are often the ones that find ways to align themselves with other organizations in their community, whether it be co-sponsoring a program or something more long-term like a merger or alignment. The Olmsted Center for Sight works collaboratively with several organizations in Buffalo and Western New York, which apart graphic of two hands shakingfrom strengthening the particular program(s), also helps illustrate to funders that our organization is sustainable.

The Olmsted Center for Sight is formally partnered with the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI), in which we share work contracts and procurements.

Contracts secured through this relationship provide full-time employment to blind and visually impaired individuals in Olmsted’s Contact Center and Manufacturing division. The Olmsted Center has also been formally partnered with the Buffalo VA Medical Center for over 20 years, in which the agency provides full staffing for the Call Center and Switchboard operations in Buffalo and Erie, PA. Through our partnership with Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York, Inc., the National Statler Center (Olmsted’s career training program) waives the tuition of one disabled veteran per class.

If you’re a successful non-profit, chances are you’re already engaged in some sort of relationship or alignment effort; your job as a grant-seeker is to be knowledgeable about your organization’s relationships and  to be able to convey them in an impactful way when seeking funds.

Why do Foundations Use Data?

Research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and others suggest three reasons: accountability, learning, and communication.

  • Accountability: Most commonly, grant partners are held accountable to grant objectives or outcomes. Less frequently, foundations use data to hold themselves accountable to their mission or goals.
  • Learning: This includes learning about what strategies should work (e.g., during planning), and what strategies did or did not work (e.g., during implementation).
  • Communication: Some foundations use data to communicate needs, progress, or impacts to stakeholders or to the community. Carefully chosen data points can make communications much more powerful.

Unfortunately, recent research also documented that foundations find generating meaninggraphic of data being processed from a server to a laptopful information to be challenging. By considering four factors, however, foundations can generate meaningful information effectively and efficiently.

  1. Consider the relative importance your foundation places on the three main uses of data – accountability, learning, and communication. For example, a foundation with a focus on accountability might focus evaluation resources on tracking quantitative outcomes and ensuring grant partners have the capacity to generate valid and reliable data. A foundation with an emphasis on using evaluation for learning might focus evaluation resources on qualitative data using interviews, facilitated discussions, and written reports to generate lessons learned. A foundation with an emphasis on communication might use either approach, depending on the target audience. For example, quantitative data would be needed to share the success of a particular approach with other funders while qualitative data on areas for improvement would be helpful for grantees.
  1. Think about your data and evaluation goals. Will you use data to support your planning processes, provide feedback on implementation, track progress towards strategic goals, or inform resource allocation or board decisions? Or all of the above? Data to support a planning process might include needs assessments, looking for what interventions have evidence of effectiveness or what innovative approaches have not been tried. Data used to inform board decisions might include needs, solutions, and past performance.
  1. Consider how data and evaluation results will be used internally and externally. What decisions are to be made, when, and by whom? The answer to these questions will determine when data are collected and will drive processes around how data and evaluation results are packaged and shared.
  1. Identify technical issues. Most people start here, but the last item is to work through technical issues, such as determining evaluation procedures by level of investment and aggregation; who should be involved in evaluation and when; expectations around rigor; what level of information is required (client vs. program); and capacity – yours and your partners’ – around staffing, expertise, and systems.

With this information in hand, you can implement a data and evaluation system to support your mission. Start with thinking through the four factors before settling on an approach or a methodology so that you can generate meaningful information effectively and efficiently.

Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships

This week we repost Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships by Amanda Broun and Katie Jones of Independent Sector. It is part of the series Putting the Grantee at the Center of Philanthropy, a collaboration between Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Stanford Social Innovation Review that “tells the story of why and how grantee inclusion is key to effective philanthropy, from both the funder and nonprofit perspectives.” This post searches for ways to mitigate an inherent power imbalance between grantor and grantee – an issue central to effective philanthropy. We commend this to grantors and grantees alike and welcome your comments, insights and suggestions.

– Malcolm

In 2014, Independent Sector (IS)—a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporations committed to advancing the common good—began to outline a new strategic vision. We convened an advisory panel of experts, engaged consultants at Monitor Deloitte to facilitate the process, and ultimately identified nine trends that will impact the nonprofit and philanthropic sector over the next two decades. The panel then asked a series of questions, including: What are the impediments to organizations meeting their missions in light of these trends? What must we do now and in the future to prepare the social sector for what lies ahead?

This led us to organize a year-long, cross-country “conversation tour” called Threads. As an illustration of a person standing on the shoulders of another person who is holding up a red light bulbpart of Threads, IS and 80 partners held 15 different community town halls to hear directly from nonprofit and philanthropic leaders about, among other things, barriers to meeting mission. One impediment to meeting mission people consistently raised was strained relationships between grantees and funders, an issue we labeled as “power dynamic.”

Given such a robust topic, IS sought to understand the nature of grantee-funder relationships when they go well. We wondered, would anyone be willing to talk to us about their relationships? Would they be honest? What was it about successful grantee-grantmaker relationships that led to a positive power dynamic and results?

To our delight, we were able to identify 20 pairs of grantees and funders who mutually believed they had a healthy relationship. We conducted 40 qualitative phone interviews (individuals were interviewed separately) to answer these questions:

  • What are the factors that contribute to healthy relationships? Is it a shared vision? Shared metrics? Something else?
  • Do the grantees and funders engage in shared behaviors and practices? Are there underlying conditions that support those practices? If so, could others adopt them?
  • And, most importantly, if a grantee and a funder have a healthy relationship, does it make a difference in the communities they serve?

The conversations were fascinating. In our interviews with Denise Joines, senior program officer for The Wilburforce Foundation, and David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, for example, both mentioned the “bad coffee” they drink in their work together—a term they use to describe the importance of cultivating relationships and ensuring community buy-in for lasting impact, which often means going to many small, local establishments and drinking several cups of bad coffee. As we spoke about their vision of success, a shared hurdle they needed to overcome together, and where they saw their relationship in 10 years, it became more and more apparent they were aligned.

These interviews and others show there are some very healthy grantee-funder relationships out there. We’ve also seen that many of the organizations who are in these relationships engage in specific practices and behaviors that are mutually reinforcing and respectful, and draw on the strengths each partner brings to the table. Some of the themes we’re seeing are:

  • Partnerships based in learning: A mutual commitment to learning and piloting new approaches. Several interviewees spoke about how performance metrics were often considered a baseline for learning, rather than a punitive aspect of the relationship.
  • Shared vision of success: A clear and mutual articulation of what success looks like, agreed on at the onset of a project, was useful when adapting strategies and tactics. In fact, three-fourths of people we interviewed said a shared vision was critical to navigating unexpected hurdles.
  • Co-development of plan/program: A plan or project developed together often makes it more comfortable for each partner to proactively offer feedback or elevate challenges. Grantees and funders alike shared how they set the mutual expectation that things will inevitably go wrong in the work, so determining how to diagnose, identify, and act to address those challenges together was always a core element of the relationship.

This fall, IS will release eight case studies that detail more of these healthy practices, behaviors, and supporting conditions across grantee-funder pairs, and highlight several organizations that execute them well. We will also share a synopsis of learnings across all 40 organizations, and pilot a number of related tools at our upcoming conference.

We believe strengthening relationships between grantees and funders is an important part of preparing the nonprofit and philanthropic sector for the challenges it will face over the next two decades. IS’s goal in this work is to help grantees and funders engage in healthier relationships so that organizations fulfill their missions and strengthen the communities they serve.