Out of Our Comfort Zone
Philanthropy Ohio welcomes Deborah Hoover, president & CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, with a guest post.
We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.–Thomas Edison
Over the last decade, The Burton D. Morgan Foundation has gone “all in” on entrepreneurship. Sometimes for people outside of our organization, this laser focus pleases and excites them and sometimes it frustrates them. The fact is, that we are focusing our grants and energy precisely on the vision that inspired our founder, Burt Morgan. He had very specific goals in mind for the Foundation he created–the resources generated through entrepreneurship were to be directed toward inspiring the entrepreneurial dream in others.
While we may have earned a reputation as a narrowly-focused grantmaker–supporting entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education–we have also worked expansively to push the envelope on the paths we take to achieve our goals. We are constantly prowling the horizon for the next opportunity for the Foundation to play a leadership role. How do we best provide the strategic resources to boost our region’s economic prospects? How do we deploy all of the philanthropic tools at our disposal to optimize impact? And how hard do we push our organizational infrastructure to achieve these goals? The answers to these questions have been shaped by a culture of stretching our boundaries and taking risks. This culture arises from the very nature of entrepreneurship–a culture we inherited from our fearless founder. He was the eternal optimist, always believing that the educated risks he took were worth the uncertainty and anxious moments. We have often shared his bulldogged observation that “failure never stopped anyone who is truly determined to succeed.”
We have made progress toward Mr. Morgan’s bold vision, and a good deal of our success resulted from being open to working closely with others. We have experimented with philanthropic collaboration through our alliances with the Fund for Our Economic Future, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and more recently, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. To be successful in our partnerships, we had to overcome challenging sticking points and prickly relationship dynamics–employing the art of compromise, regular and direct communication, unwavering patience, and a fair amount of soul searching. It has all been worth it. The end result of these efforts has been nothing short of transformational for our organization. We have gained valued colleagues in far flung places. We have learned more from our grantmaking than we ever could have working on our own. We bounce ideas around with our partners, borrow and adapt programs structures, share in evaluation efforts and troubleshoot together. Through this outreach, our grants deployed on a regional basis, take on national significance and have far reaching impact from lessons learned in partnership with others.
What does all this mean internally for our organization? Our mission is first and foremost, the guiding light that drives our work. Our constant reaching means we are always all hands on deck. We all pitch in when there is work to be done. We all take ownership of the end result. Our grantmaking experiences are richer because of this approach. We are challenged and engaged at both the board and staff levels. We have become a learning organization, building on past experiences, mistakes included, and growing all the time. The risks we take lead to some results we never could have anticipated, usually wonderful developments that inspire extraordinary next steps, but yes, also some projects that go bust. This mode of working also means we are oftentimes a bit off kilter and frequently out of our comfort zone as we explore new territory.
It is in that space, out of our comfort zone, where amazing stuff tends to happen. The phone rings and someone has a brilliant idea that capitalizes on one of our programs. The connectivity between several of our grants creates sparks that lead to a new way of working and addressing a problem. Young people contact us to share what great project transpired as a result of a foundation-funded program. A grant that goes astray teaches us a valuable lesson and through iterations, we get better and better at what we do. The entrepreneurial culture that we work so hard to generate for our region circles back, stimulating the growth of our own entrepreneurial mindset, and constantly pushes us to venture out of our comfort zone to try new things and embrace the occasional queasiness.
We would not have it any other way. We will continue to reach out of our comfort zone. It is after all, where the magic happens. It is exactly how our intrepid founder wanted us to approach his special brand of philanthropy.