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10 Things I Learned About Grantmaking

JSF Board Chair Malcolm Macleod has learned a great deal during his more than 30 years of working in philanthropy. He has been instrumental at the Foundation in implementing impactful grant-making strategies that help disadvantaged people groups pursue education and employment opportunities.

Here, he shares some of his lessons learned, which are discussed in more detail in his recently published book, “The Practice of Philanthropy: A Guide for Foundation Boards and Staff.”

It’s written for donors big and small—whether they are foundations or families who want to make the world a better place.

Read on to learn how effective grantmaking can have major impact on your grantee partners and your organization.


1. Grants are investments

Practice grantmaking like you mean it. Whether you are making grants yourself or acting through staff, grantmaking activity must be purposeful and organized. Treat your grants like the precious investments they are.

Foundation investing is different from “for profit” investing. Financial success is uncorrelated to the quality of your grantmaking or the quality of your grantee partners. Your “return” is social benefit, not profit, and your strategies will be different. 

2. Knowledge is your foundation’s vital second asset

Foundation leaders should immerse themselves in their fields of interest. It is the best way to learn. This is where your ideas will come from. Knowledge and ideas will inform your strategy and make it better. Learning is at the heart of good grantmaking practice. 

3. There is a power imbalance

When you deal with potential grantees, the most important thing for you to understand and always remember is that there is a gross inequality of bargaining power between foundation and grantee. This makes it difficult for grantees to trust foundations and inhibits honest dialogue. It can also interfere with the grantmaking process and make the foundation’s work more difficult. The power imbalance cannot be eliminated, but foundation behavior that demonstrates trust in its grantee partner should, over time, mitigate its effects.

4. Grantmaking is an iterative process

Great ideas do not usually arrive in final form. They build on each other and improve. The practice of good grantmaking often leads to better grantmaking. Knowledgeable grantmakers can play a big part in the iterative process of ideas and help propel the evolution of strategy.  

5. Foundation grantees are partners

Do not use the term “partner” in a patronizing or careless way. Realize that your grantee partners are the ones who do the work of advancing your foundation’s mission. You need them as much as they need you. You invest, they work. Once you commit to the concept of partnership there are two things that follow. Choose grantees carefully. Choose grantee partners you can trust and treat them with respect. They invariably know more about their work and the related issues than you. They are the teachers, and you are the student. 

6. Give grantees the tools. 

The best grants are those that empower people and organizations to be more independent. 

7. Embrace risk (and failure)

Foundation grants are risk capital. Allocate some or all of your grants to new organizations and ideas. Foundations are free. They are independent of the marketplace and public approval. 

New ideas and methods will require foundations to be different, to go against the grain of conventional thinking. Foundation independence permits this. Setbacks and failures are a necessary part of innovation. Have the courage to be honest with yourself and transparent with the world. This is a cultural issue for foundations. They must consciously create a culture that embraces risk and develop policies to reward bravery and innovation. Leaders must show humility and openness about their own mistakes and imperfections. This will give everyone the courage to speak up and advance new ideas. 

Risk is not the same thing as recklessness. Knowledge, experience, and strategy will inspire risk taking. Recklessness is born of ignorance and impulse. Know and practice the difference.  

8. Realize that some grantmaking is more difficult

Trying to help people solve seemingly intractable problems is a high calling for a grantmaker. Both grantmaker and grantee must feel their way along with all the self-doubt that this entails. If there were an easier way or even a clear course, it would likely have been found already. 

Grantmakers must be patient and accept small victories. There is usually no silver bullet. Slow progress is better than what preceded it (nothing). And if grantmakers won’t do it, who else can or will? Above all, be honest and transparent about your grants and results. There is much to learn from your experience.

9. Beware of unintended and unwanted consequences

Grantmakers should respect the power of money and not wave it around like a magic wand. The best insurance against unintended consequences is a good knowledge of, and an honest relationship with, your grantee partner.

10. Make freedom and independence your foundation’s greatest asset

Dedicate part of your grant budget to tackle difficult problems that others cannot or will not. The opportunities, large and small, are boundless, and they are out there waiting for you. Use your freedom to go out and find them.


About R. Malcolm Macleod, K.C.

Malcolm Macleod was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1951. He obtained a B.A. in English (Honors) in 1975 and was awarded a Lord Beaverbrook Scholarship to study law at the University of New Brunswick.

Malcolm was admitted to the New Brunswick Bar in 1978 and to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1979. He joined the firm of Patterson, Smith, Mathews and Grant as an associate and practiced with that firm and its successors for over 25 years. During that time he served as managing partner and chair of the firm’s litigation department. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1997.

Malcolm joined the Johnson Scholarship Foundation as a trustee in 1993. He was elected secretary in 1995 and served in that position until 2001, when he was elected President and Chief Executive Officer. He retired from that role in April 2020 and accepted the Board’s invitation to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors.

You can read more of his insights in his newest book, which is available for purchase

Listening and Understanding

At December’s Continuing Education presentation, “How to listen to grantees (and still find out what we need to know),” Bobby Krause of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors made the point that we must actively and empathically listen to our grantees. His presentation to his fellow Grant Program Committee members contained good communication and relationship building advice, namely, show up, shut up, engage and interpret. This advice fits well with recent research by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives.

Here is the summary of CEP’s findings:

  1. Foundations are not as in touch with nonprofits’ needs as they think
  2. Nonprofits most desire help in fundraising, staffing, and communications
  3. Both nonprofits and foundations have a role to play in closing the gap between the support nonprofits need and the support foundations provide
  4. Nonprofit CEOs see general operating support grants as having the greatest impact on strengthening their organizations

The first finding is hardly surprising, and neither are the numbers behind it: 95% of foundation leaders believe that their foundation cares about the health of their grantees and 87% of them believe that they are aware of grantee’s needs. But only a minority of grantees (43%) believe that foundations care about strengthening their organizations and most of them (58%) say that foundations don’t ask them what they need.

It seems trite to say that funders care about the health of their grantees. It is the grantees, after all, who execute the funder’s mission. Money may be an essential ingredient, but it is the grantees who do the work. So why would they think that foundations do not care about them?

Much of the answer lies in the parties’ unequal bargaining position; the grantee asks, and the grantor decides. According to CEP’s research most grantees (64%) primarily consider what they think a foundation will fund, rather than what they really need. JSF has adopted practices to mitigate the power imbalance (listening is one of them) but nonprofits’ telling funders what they want to hear is pervasive, if understandable.

Going back to Bobby’s presentation, we must do more than listen to grantees. We must “interpret” and deeply understand them. What do they care about? Do their values and mission align with ours? What are they doing? What do they want to do? Will their work fit well with our mission and strategy? Does their leadership inspire confidence? The understanding that comes from answering these questions is the first order of business and is by far the most difficult part of the grant making process.

Our grant making process is designed to quickly decline requests that obviously do not fall within our mission and strategy and concentrate on those few that might. We frequently spend a year or more researching and meeting with a potential grantee (and its end users) before deciding whether to entertain a grant application. Implicit in our decision to accept a grant application is confidence in the grantee and a belief that its work aligns with our mission and strategy.

It follows that the grant transaction should be a simple matter of asking how we can best support a grantee or potential grantee. If we have done our work well then the grantee will trust us and tell us exactly what it needs.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 18 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

November is Native American Heritage Month

The photo above was taken at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s annual Entrepreneurship Scholarship meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, last month. As you can see, we had a good turnout of JSF board members, staff and consultants and representation from almost all our nonprofit, tribal college and university partners in this program.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship program is in its 28th year and this annual convening has been an integral part. The Foundation’s persistence in this program – and in our Indigenous funding generally – is paying a dividend of improvement and these meetings seem to get better every year.

The meeting heard a presentation by Jamie Schwartz and Tiffany Gusbeth of the American Indian College Fund. The College Fund administers 200 scholarship programs for Indigenous students, two of which – the Business Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Pipeline – are matching scholarship endowments established by the Foundation.

The Business Entrepreneurship Scholarship supports students who have already obtained an associate’s degree, typically at a tribal college, and are in their junior or senior year of a bachelor’s degree. This scholarship program has a 93 percent persistence and graduation rate.

The Entrepreneurship Pipeline supports first and second year business students at tribal colleges that do not partner directly with the Foundation. Interestingly, the College Fund has also gone into the secret sauce business and has developed “student success services” such as coaching and mentoring, transition assistance and peer tutoring.

Native American Heritage Month LogoWe also heard from Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, a network of 57 radio and four television stations. Loris gave a wonderful presentation on the strengths and challenges of Native Public Media and its role and potential in education.

The best of this meeting took place at the very beginning when we had presentations from two Johnson Scholars from Northern Arizona University. Dylan Graham, from the Navajo Nation, has just obtained a degree in hotel management and was president of NAU’s student body. She presented very well and, not surprisingly, has several options. She may go overseas to work with an international hotelier or to Arizona State University for an MBA.

Elliott Cooley is also from the Navajo Nation and is in his senior year of business management. While in high school he suffered nerve damage in a car accident that partially paralyzed his left side. After two years of physiotherapy he joined the Marines and served for four years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. He began college on the GI Bill and, when it ran out, obtained a Johnson Scholarship. Elliott is an entrepreneur and won the NAU Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) business competition. He hopes to do business on the Navajo Reservation and serve as a role model for other would-be entrepreneurs.

Elliott referenced his tour of duty in Iraq and stressed how grateful he is for the freedom to pursue education and a career of his choice. Gratitude was a good theme at our meeting and for the Foundation’s work generally. A year from now it will be Native American Heritage Month and we will be back in Scottsdale, talking to our grantee partners about how we can support another year of their excellent work. We should all be grateful for this opportunity.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 17 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

January is National Mentoring Month

Check out, the website of MENTOR, a national non-profit organization devoted to increasing the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships for America’s young people. It makes the case for mentoring
as follows:

National Mentoring Month 2018 logoMentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset.

Most of us readily accept the value of mentoring. We have had mentors of one kind or another in our lives and deeply appreciate their contribution to our development. Further, most of us can understand that mentoring is even more important for “at risk” young people. It should come as no surprise that many of the disadvantaged people that the Foundation seeks to serve do not have access to mentoring. MENTOR calls this the “mentoring gap.”

John Lera holding a certificateEffective mentoring has become the gold standard for the Foundation’s scholarships serving students with disadvantages. We have learned that preparation for college is more important than money. Students who are not emotionally and academically prepared for college have little chance of success. It is the mentors of these students who prepare them and continue to support them after the transition to college: teachers, volunteers and non-profit organizations. A great example of this is the Johnson Scholars program and Take Stock in Children.

Mentoring is also a significant part of most of the Foundation’s non-scholarship programs. Eye to Eye, for example, provides mentoring to middle and high school students who learn differently. We invest in Eye to Eye because mentoring is the most valuable thing that can be given to these aspiring students. Bridges from School to Work and the Statler Center are two Foundation supported programs that help to train and place people with disabilities into the competitive workplace. They accomplish this good work through intensive training and personal support. Staying with the disability programs, our scholarships at the State University System of Florida continue to attract increasing non-monetary support.

Woman at podium in graduation cap and gownOur investment in Pathways to Education is a hybrid of capacity building and student scholarship support. Pathways’ various supports – social, academic and financial – amount to mentorship for these children and account for high retention and graduation rates. Another Foundation investment that supports underserved children, Nativity Prep in Boston, achieves similar results by connecting to its students in middle school and following them through high school, college and into the workplace. Our investment at Nativity is not for scholarships but for its ongoing support (mentoring) of its students.

The Foundation’s mission is to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We have come to understand that mentoring is at the heart of our work. Mentoring helps young people, particularly those that face disadvantages, to see a bright future and to understand that they can and should have a bright future. In the Foundation’s grantmaking we must be mindful of the importance of mentoring and that one-third of young people need further access to mentoring. The social and economic value of connecting with these young people cannot be overstated.

A Recipe for Success, Part 2

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the second in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

Research shows that there is a great gap between educational expectations and reality for students with disabilities.

A 2006 National Longitudinal Transition Study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and Institute of Education Sciences showed that 85 percent of youth with disabilities plan to complete some form of post-secondary education (26 percent expected to complete a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 34 percent expected to graduate from a two-year college; 25 percent expected to graduate from a four-year college). However, the same study also indicates that only one in 10 of these students actually complete any sort of post-secondary education (5 percent graduated from a post-secondary vocational, technical or trade school; 4 percent graduated from a two-year college; 1 percent graduated from a four-year college).

Group of students pointing towards Disability Resource CenterThe Johnson Scholarship Program helps to narrow the gap between expectation and attainment. Data kept by Florida Atlantic University finds that 66.1 percent of the students receiving at least one scholarship disbursement have graduated and another 20 percent are still enrolled in post-secondary education. The role of the Disability Support Services (DSS) office in helping students through this process cannot be overstated.

The good work of the DSS in delivering the scholarship program to students is enabled by its partnership with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Florida Board of Governors’ office. The scholarship program depends upon a unique collaboration among the philanthropic, higher education and legislative sectors.

State university system of florida board of governors logoThe Board of Governors Office performs essential leadership functions. It serves as a liaison between the Foundation and the universities, disseminates information on best practices, and helps to standardize processes. It manages and distributes the scholarship money to the various SUSF schools and it also provides expertise on legislative and policy changes that might affect students with disabilities.

The Board of Governors scales the support of students with disabilities to a state level, providing a greater platform for advocacy and building allies across sector lines in Florida. Such allies are invaluable as students with disabilities graduate from college and pursue employment.

At the heart of the partnership among JSF, the Board of Governor’s Office and the campus DSS is a one-day annual meeting, convened by JSF. The purpose of this meeting is to review the performance of the scholarship program, discuss developments affecting students with disabilities and best practices and opportunities for learning and collaboration. Professionals from outside the SUSF are sometimes invited to attend the annual meeting and speak on issues relevant to students with disabilities and their educators.

Group photo of peopleThe underlying reason for JSF’s mission in education is to facilitate meaningful employment. Unfortunately, there is huge underemployment of people with disabilities, even those with university degrees. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) data released in June 2017, the unemployment rates for people with disabilities is more than double the rate for people without disabilities. The under employment of students with disabilities has been a recurring topic of discussion at JSF Scholarship annual meetings.

The Johnson Scholarship Program for students with disabilities is based upon a unique working relationship among JSF, the State of Florida, the SUSF and the university campuses, particularly the DSS at each campus. It is this partnership that has made the scholarship program successful. We have repeatedly noted that the real value of the program is in the work of the people involved (rather than the money).

Graphic saying "we're all able to do anything!"The program builds on infrastructure, expertise and resources that are already in place in the state of Florida.  The Board of Governors is the governing body for its 12 state universities and DSS are well established at each campus. The delivery of the Scholarship Program causes additional work for these partners but the incremental cost is small compared to the benefits.

The JSF SUSF Scholarship Program is a proven winner that is easily replicable in other states. The administrative machinery, DSS and a philanthropic sector are already in place. All that is required is an individual or group of individuals to champion the program.

For more information about Johnson Scholarship Foundation, visit

A Recipe for Success

In honor of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, we bring you the first in a two-part series on the Johnson Scholarship Program. Now in its 26th year, the program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and a network of support services to enhance student success.

What if scholarships weren’t really about the money?

As a private philanthropic foundation, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation invests to obtain the highest possible rate of return. The return on its scholarship grants is defined by the rate of successful matriculation and completion of post-secondary education.

JSF has learned that scholarships that include wraparound support are more likely to help a student to succeed. Money provides the financial stability and opportunity for post-secondary education, but it is not what gets a student through. Non-monetary supports attached to a scholarship contribute more to post-secondary success than money. This is especially true for students with disabilities.

state university system of florida board of governors logoJSF’s scholarship for people with disabilities attending a school within the State University System of Florida (SUSF) delivers both scholarship and non-monetary support by way of a collaboration of JSF, the SUSF and the Florida Legislature. Scholarships are awarded to students with disabilities who enroll at any one of the 12 SUSF campuses.

The program was founded in 1991. It began with an agreement between JSF’s founder, Theodore Johnson, and the State of Florida, which was expressed by an Act of the Legislature entitled “…The Johnson Scholarship Program.”  This Act provides for a scholarship program for students with disabilities to be funded by JSF. It also provides for a 50 percent state match for JSF grants and charges the Department of Education to administer the program.

Over the past 26 years JSF has made grants exceeding $9 million, which have all gone to student scholarships, together with the state match. However, the State’s commitment to administer the scholarship program has proven even more valuable than its matching funding.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation logoThe Florida Board of Governor’s office and each campus of the State University System form the backbone of a comprehensive student support system, which accompanies the scholarship. This is the secret sauce that makes the scholarship work. The award of the scholarship may capture a student’s attention, but the real magic of the scholarship lies in the mentoring and assistance that goes with it.

This is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it, JSF has no mission and there are no scholarships. Money is assuredly the main course. But it is the secret sauce that enables students to sit down and stay for dinner. And it is the secret sauce that students remember long afterward. Scholarships plus Supports equals Achievement ($ + S = A).

Secret sauce can be defined as the personal, non-monetary support, wrapped around the scholarship. The Disability Support Services (DSS) at each campus plays a critical role. It advertises the scholarship, receives the applications, leads the selection process, makes the award and provides ongoing support to scholarship recipients. JSF believes that the DSS’ ownership and control of this scholarship process and the support that they provide to each student throughout their college careers is central to the increased persistence and graduation rates of students with disabilities on each campus.

inclusion drives innovation posterThe scholarship program provides reciprocal benefits to the DSS offices, one of which is enhanced awareness of disability issues in other areas of the university. Ten of the 12 DSSs surveyed indicated that they use a selection committee to determine scholarship recipients. The selection committees are comprised of faculty and professionals drawn from various university departments. This increases knowledge of the special aspects and requirements of students with disabilities, thus producing allies for these students across campus. Another enhancement of the DSS profile within the university stems from a supplementary matching grant for scholarships that JSF offers to each SUSF campus. The local DSS office typically takes a leadership role in negotiating the grant and advocating for the matching funds within the university and the development office.

The most important reciprocal benefit that the scholarship provides is the enhanced opportunities for students to connect with the DSS staff and services. Eight out of 12 DSS offices report an increase in the use of services because the scholarship has heightened awareness of the office and the services it has to offer.

The enhanced relationship between the DSS and scholarship recipient gives the DSS access to the recipient’s academic progress. Some schools take advantage of this to determine when they need to offer appropriate guidance, support or to consider or reconsider accommodations. Even the act of applying for the scholarship can help students form social and support networks.

Ability Not Disability Graphic

The benefits of mentoring and support for post-secondary students, particularly those at risk, seem self-evident. Anecdotal evidence abounds. However, there is not much reported research. In Mentoring Individuals with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Literature, Brown, Takahashi, and Roberts find distinct themes in the research that was available:

Within these 10 articles, however, several themes did emerge, including: a) the positive role of technology; b) the desire to use current mentees to become future mentors; c) a focus on specific disability groups, such as learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and disabilities perceived as mild; d) the usefulness of mentoring for academic, career, and social skills; and e) the value of establishing long-term mentoring relationships.

The DSS at each SUSF campus responds to most of the themes identified by the authors. These offices typically provide adaptive technology, expertise and focus on specific disability groups, academic and social mentoring and long-term relationships. The JSF Scholarship Program also strengthens long-term relationships between the DSS and scholarship recipients. In addition to the annual application and award process, local DSS offices organize recognition events attended by students, parents and faculty. Many times, JSF representatives are in attendance as well.

Next week: Bridging the gap between educational expectations and reality for students with  disabilities.

The Fading American Dream

Raj ChettyRaj Chetty is a professor of economics at Stanford University and has been recognized by the American Economic Association as the best American economist under age 40. His current research focuses on equality of opportunity: how can we give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding?

Professor Chetty’s research shows that the American dream of upward mobility is fading. An American child from a household with an income in the bottom quintile has a 7% chance of achieving an income in the top quintile. By comparison a Canadian child in the same situation has a 13% chance, almost double. Several other nations lead the US in social mobility. This is in spite of America’s prowess in producing private wealth.

Father holding child's handAnother finding is that the odds of a child earning more than his or her parents are declining. In 1940 there was a 90% chance that an American child would earn more than his or her parents. By the 1980s chances were about 50/50. Only time will tell but there is no reason to think that millennials will fare better.

The potential for upward economic mobility used to be the unique promise of American society. Unfortunately this potential is being realized by increasingly fewer people.

United states on a globeThe reasons for the fading American dream are complex. Professor Chetty’s research shows that geography is a factor. Children in the southeast states are not as upwardly mobile as children in most other parts of the country. There is also a correlation between neighborhoods and mobility. A child from a racially integrated neighborhood has a better chance. Causes for this can be debated. However, the value of education as a vehicle for social mobility is something that everyone can agree on. There is a direct correlation between the amount of education a person acquires and the amount of money they earn over a lifetime.

student walking in an aisle of booksJSF’s mission is to “assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment.” We can equate the word “disadvantaged” to households with incomes in the bottom quintile (the upper limit for these households is about $21 thousand per annum). JSF focusses on the education and employment of these people. We seek to address the problem of inequality of access to good education. The evidence that this makes a significant difference is overwhelming.

American flagI recently referenced a survey, in which only 13% of Foundation CEO’s said that they believed Foundations make a “significant difference.” Some of the CEO’s (and the surveyors) cited the “sheer magnitude and complexity” of the problems as one reason for not making a significant difference. It seems trite to say that a foundation, or anyone else, can only make a significant difference if it directs its attention to a discrete aspect of a problem.

No foundation (or government) can “fix” the American dream. A foundation can, however, play a part in the movement to assist disadvantaged people to advance economically and thereby make a significant difference.

3 Reasons Why Indigenous Students Merit More Philanthropic Investment

Since inception, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has invested in the lives Indigenous Peoples. Our Founder believed they got a “raw deal” and thought it fair to give back to the communities and people who – through no fault of their own – do not have the same opportunities for success. For over 25 years, Native communities have proved themselves well worth the investment. Here’s why we believe others should consider investing, too:

There’s Great Opportunity

Indigenous Peoples can sometimes be referred to as the “Invisible People” or the “asterisk nation” because in national surveys, Indigenous Peoples either fail to be represented, or are represented by a * indicating the population is too small to survey. However, the National Congress of American Indians reports:

  • The total American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population (including people who identify with a combination of other races) is 5.2 million or 1.7% of the US students walking along a wet sidewalkpopulation.
  • About 32 percent of Natives are under the age of 18, compared to only 24% of the total population who are under the age of 18. The median age for American Indians and Alaska Natives on reservations is 26, compared to 37 for the entire nation.
  • The AIAN population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total AIAN population; whereas the under 25 population for the United States is only 34 percent of the total population.

Needless-to-say, these statistics indicate that Indigenous youth are a notable portion of the population and there is both great opportunity and need for investment in them.

They Have Much to Teach Us

Indigenous students have seen their communities endure hardship and change in the face of the progression of modern society. But they’ve also experienced the traditions of their tribes and have become passionate culture-bearers among the threat of dying cultures. They’ve become advocates for the cultures and their futures, threading a positive narrative students in caps and gowns holding up their diplomaabout Indigenous communities while still challenging and cultivating change. The narrative of native youth is one of hope and resilience. It is one that is dedicated to serving its people and preserving its culture. We all can learn a great deal from Native youth.

Great Results

Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) is a Native youth initiative focused on removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. It gives a voice to Native youth and encourages them to use their talents, creativity and education to benefit their communities and culture. So far, Native youth have jumped at the opportunity to engage with positive solutions in their communities and society.

United Tribes Technical College Spring Graduation on May 8, 2015

Investing in Indigenous students equips them with the skill and knowledge necessary to implement change and influence culture. It is a way to empower them and indicate faith in their ability to make a difference.


For more information on JSF Indigenous Peoples investments, visit our website.

Adding Value: 3 Ways to Increase the Value of Your Grants

We have come to think of our grants as investments, similar to those we make in the financial markets. When we invest in a new organization or idea we are, in effect, venture investors. Like our counterparts in the financial marketplace, we can usually add value by giving our grantee something in addition to money. We might provide specialized knowledge. Sometimes we connect a grantee with another organization or person. We regularly convene meetings of grantee partners so that they can learn from each other and teachers and students posing in front of johnson scholars signothers in their field of endeavor. Often we just show up to meet students or help our grantees raise money.

The idea of adding value seems good. But there are at least two competing policy considerations. First, at JSF 
we pride ourselves on being “lean and mean.” We have a small staff and our expense to size ratio is about 35% lower than the median. Second, we do not want to undertake work that someone else can do better. So we have to be selective about the activities in which we involve ourselves. As the Foundation matures and gains experience, its ability to add value to grants increases. Here are some practical examples of how we do this:

  1. Network

The funders network of both philanthropic and organizational leaders can be valuablegraphic of people networking assets to grantee partners. Funders can use their networks to leverage financial support,
connect similar causes, increase awareness, and educate. On numerous occasions, JSF has been happy to write letters of recommendation for grantee partners to help them leverage support. On other occasions we have purposefully convened meetings with different grantees so that they might learn from one another. In any case, a funders network is an asset and a valuable tool in the hands of grantee partners, and should be utilized as beyond the grant support to maximize the value and impact of the grant.

  1. Fundraise

Most of the grants made by JSF have a matching grant component. We do this to maximize graphic of hand and heart with dollar sign in heartthe support for the grant-funded program, and to ensure sustainability after the grant ends. A match ratio quite literally increases the value of the grant and creates an
opportunity to raise awareness. Fundraising support is an opportunity to invest in the program by putting your mouth where your money is. Persuading a consortium of potential funders is difficult, and often times foundations lack staff resources to do this, but it is necessary if we are to support the sustainability of our funded programs.

  1. Celebrate

Perhaps one of the most gratifying things that we get to do at JSF is participate in grantee events, honoring the success of the programs we support. Not only are these events fun,MBA-AIE graduates they are opportunities for us to show our appreciation for the partnership and personally invest in the program. The presence and participation of funders in these types of celebratory events inspire and ensure support.

Adding value to our grant investments will continue to increase in importance. More activity comes at a cost, however, and in a time of skinny or negative investment returns, the discussions and decisions on how we add value will also be important.

Democracy in Action: 3 Indicators that Philanthropy will Generate Social Change

I recently had the privilege of hearing Karl Zinsmeister speak at the CEO dinner at the annual Florida Philanthropic Network summit. Karl Zinsmeister oversees all magazine, graphic with the words "what comes next"book and website publishing at The Philanthropy Roundtable. He has authored 12 books, including What Comes Next? How private givers can rescue America in an era of political frustration, which was the theme of his talk.

Zinsmeister’s thesis is that today’s social and political divisions are nothing new and that solutions to the country’s problems will not come from government or the political process but from private citizens, led by philanthropy. He cites numerous examples from American history where private action – not government – addressed and solved pressing social problems.

  1. Political Dysfunction is Nothing New

Zinsmeister’s examples are instructive. As for political dysfunction, he notes that the american flagInauguration of Andrew Jackson (1829) was a drunken, destructive riot and that, at various times in the 18th and 19th centuries, Congressional debate descended into fistfights or worse. Governments have, at times, been misguided or dysfunctional or both. The secret to America’s advancement is that it has always been a country with many independent centers of power. Who can doubt that in a free society most decisions are made by “the market” and not government?

  1. Philanthropy has Historically Catalyzed and Led Social Progress

Philanthropy is one of American’s “independent sources of power” and has the ability to catalyze and lead social progress. Zinmeister notes that both the Abolition and Temperance movements came from philanthropy and volunteerism.

In 1833 two brothers, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Tappan’s were successful New York businessmen, who abhorred slavery and set out to change American attitudes towards it through worship, education and organizing. They were ostracized, defamed and bullied. The political establishment of the black and white photo of women and childrenday and the press were not sympathetic and turned a blind eye to mob violence against anti-slavery advocates and the destruction of their houses. But the brothers kept going and built a movement that culminated in the abolition of slavery less than 30 years later.

Similarly, it was philanthropic and charitable action, the Temperance Movement, which addressed another American disgrace. The Temperance Movement is often portrayed as quaint and even silly. History tells a different story. In the early 1800s alcohol consumption was rampant and destructive. Americans drank “from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn”, observed one historian. The cost to American society and its economy was enormous and the effect on individuals and families was tragic. The alcohol industry had powerful proponents and lobbyists but was nonetheless defeated by a coalition of philanthropists and volunteers.

  1. Philanthropy Catalyzes and Leads Social Progress Today

We do not have to go back to previous centuries. Look at what the LGBT movement has accomplished in a relatively short time. As for direct action – as opposed to policy – consider this. Philanthropist George Soros and his gift of $50 million are estimated to have saved more lives in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war than the combined interventions of all national young people waving pride flagsgovernments plus the United Nations. Current examples of philanthropic leadership can be found in the fields of education, research, job training programs, public works, micro-lending, foster care and adoption.

History tells us that we should not sit back and wait for government to solve all of our problems. It can’t. Nor should we wring our hands and complain. Yale professor Stephen Carter has referred to philanthropy as “democracy in action”. Our action is needed and we must keep going.