Re-construct philanthropy for greater impact

June 30, 2015 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

headshot of claudiaPaul Shoemaker, executive connector at Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Seattle, recently published an essay exhorting funders to “fundamentally change the underlying practices we use to construct our philanthropy.” He has five philanthropic practices that – when used together – can help funders “make quantum leaps in achieving greater impact” in their communities. These practices are:

  1. Provide 100% unrestricted grants
  2. Fund long-term, at least over 10 years
  3. Connect to peers as the rule, not the exception
  4. Build strong boards
  5. Listen to customers much more closely
Paul Shoemaker, executive connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle

Paul Shoemaker, executive connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle

Paul has worked for more than 17 years as a funder and at SVP, so his insights are gleaned from on-the-ground experience as well as thoughtful analysis of results from those years. He is the founding president of Social Venture Partners International, has served on numerous nonprofit boards since leaving Microsoft in 1998 for SVP Seattle. I interviewed Paul to find out more about his essay and the practices. Read the full essay.

Q: What prompted you to write the essay?

A: Having spent 17 years in the sector and SVP’s work and the way that we do it with nonprofits, I was able to see the ramifications of funding first-hand, so that accumulation of experiences led me to write the essay. And, I think the other part of that is I feel so strongly about the practices, particularly the first thing I mentioned in regards to funding, my call for unrestricted grants. So, it’s a combination of both long-time experience and perspectives on funding and I decided to shove it all together into one document.

Q: How long did it take you to write this essay?

A: I should say probably 3 – 4 months. I got input from lots of people. No one agrees with everything but everybody agrees with some part of it. I got people to send input of what I wrote and then I thought about their reactions. I was certainly trying to write a personal point of view and have a voice, and be willing to put an opinion out there but I also wanted it to be well- rounded and have some other ideas in it.

image of essayQ: You said that funding was sort of the flashpoint for you, but how did you come to identify these five critical practices?

A: Like I said, the first practice was sort of always the flag I waved while the rest were from accumulated experiences and from talking to all those other folks. I had a lot longer list, but you can’t just throw the kitchen sink at it. I had hunch about a lot of things and used the conversations that I had with people who were helping me to prioritize and focus on what really mattered the most. So I sort of had a menu, and those folks helped me pick the things that mattered the most from the menu.

Q: Providing unrestricted funding is not the same thing as building capacity, which you didn’t include; why not?

A: Capacity building has been a part of our DNA for a long time. I guess what I would say is, I feel like capacity building is not really in the same category as these five things. The thing about building strong boards is sort of like the pear and the rest are the oranges. Capacity is like a different level of concept. And honestly, if you did those five things, that would go a long, long way to building a strong organization. So, capacity building is sort of inherent within those five things.

I tried to be clear that I didn’t mean that “unrestricted” (funding) meant “unaccountable.” I didn’t mean you throw money over the wall and burn it. They have to be accountable. There are some things nonprofits need to get better at if they want that kind of funding. But, that being said, I was trying to write a letter early on to funders, so for the purpose of this one essay, I wasn’t really writing for nonprofits. If they get it, great! But I was really writing for funders. I wasn’t trying to suggest practices for nonprofits. That would be a different paper—someday.

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Let’s talk, philanthropy.

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Claudia Y.W. Herrold

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Entry filed under: Commentaries, Core Competencies, Funding Areas, Grantmaking, Professional Reading, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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