Posts filed under ‘Guest Blogger’
This week we welcome Treye Johnson, program officer at the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, as guest blogger.
In the summer 2016 edition of Philanthropy Review, I wrote an article about a racial equity training session Burton D. Morgan Foundation co-sponsored. The article highlighted a few points from the training, which presented an abundance of statistical data to demonstrate the widespread nature of racial inequality in the United States. Since then, Northeast Ohio leaders have continued to explore the topic in conjunction with the Racial Equity Institute (REI). More trainings have been hosted and discussions held about how we might begin moving forward collectively.
Deciding on next steps proved to be challenging as each person had a different opinion on what to do. Additionally, the organizations they represented each had their own goals and motivations, connected back to their missions. The recommendation from REI was to continue building awareness within our community. While introducing nearly 500 Northeast Ohio leaders to REI’s trainings during 2016 was a noteworthy accomplishment, the number still needs to grow significantly before we will be able to meaningfully address racial equity in our region.
As a result, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will be coordinating monthly REI training sessions throughout 2017 in Cleveland, meant to increase our shared understanding of racial inequality, foster productive dialogue among community stakeholders and civic leaders and determine strategies. In addition to the REI sessions, the awareness building will include efforts to compile and present local data related to racial inequality. Lastly, individuals and organizations will be encouraged to host their own equity-focused activities for our community. Events such as movie screenings, book clubs and discussion groups are easy yet much needed ways to further the discussion about racial inequality. This issue is too complex and entrenched to be solved by any singular method. It will take a truly multi-faceted, cross-sectoral collaboration – in which everyone takes some ownership – to create real change.
CNP hopes to raise enough funding that the trainings can be provided at no cost. In the meantime, individuals and/or organizations can pay on a per capita basis to participate in the training sessions. For more information about the 2017 training dates or to support this effort, please visit www.clevelandnp.org/rei.
We caught up with Robert Eckardt, retiring Cleveland Foundation executive vice president, before he wraps up his tenure at the foundation at the end of the month. Bob shared what led him to the philanthropic field as well as advice for new practitioners.
What was your career path to the position you are leaving?
I moved to Cleveland in 1977 to run a project funded by a Cleveland Foundation grant looking at health care needs of the growing elderly population. After five years in Cleveland, I almost moved to Connecticut for a job but was asked to join the staff of the (much smaller in those days) Cleveland Foundation as a program officer to handle grants in the areas of health and aging. I thought I might work there for 4-5 years. However, over the years my roles changed at the foundation with growing levels of responsibility, culminating with my current position as executive vice president. This opportunity for growth kept me at the foundation. So, I have been at the foundation more than 34 years in a variety of roles, but all with significant focus on grantmaking.
What advice would you offer to someone just entering the field?
Philanthropy is a wonderful field, with the opportunity to work with many interesting people on important issues. But there are several dangers as well. The power differential between the applicants and the foundation can be a challenge. It can lead to arrogance on the part of funders, with poor customer service and worse. A second danger is to think that money is the resource in short supply. You learn that managerial talent and the ability to implement funded projects are also resources. This means you need to focus as much on organization capacity and the ability to implement as on the idea. In a way, ideas are much more common than is the ability to actually implement. Finally, you also have walk the fine line between trying to be helpful to your grantees but not muddling in their work and becoming a burden by unrealistic expectations. The grantee always knows the work better.
What would you change if you had a chance for a “do-over?”
Not sure I have a great answer to this question. Of course there were individual grants that did not meet expectations, but if properly structured they become fodder for learning and for improvements in the future. If I could do anything, I would probably devote more resources on the back end of the grants, trying to learn from the successes and failures.
I’m still working to fully define that. I plan to stay in Cleveland and will stay on a number of current boards, both locally and nationally. I am interested in getting more engaged in some of the health and aging issues that animated my early career, but the specifics are still being finalized.
What will you miss (if anything) about your position?
I’ll miss the opportunity to work with so many committed people who are striving to make the community better. Many are working against incredible odds and clearly not for personal enrichment.
This week we welcome guest blogger Christine Amer Mayer, president of the GAR Foundation in Akron, reposting her recent blog, Systemic Inequity: An Honest Reckoning.
My friend and colleague Brian Frederick referenced in his recent blog post the Racial Equity Institute (REI) “Groundwater” training session. I attended that powerful session as well, and I was struck by the questions it raised related to the growth and opportunity challenges we face. REI suggests, and indeed proves with a hefty catalog of research, that it is no coincidence that white people do better than black people in virtually every arena of American life.
We use different language to describe disparities in each setting – the “achievement gap” in education, “health disparities” in health care, “disproportionate representation” in incarceration rates. But the trend is the same everywhere, and the words that best describe the real phenomenon are, sadly, “systemic racism.”
While some would like to believe that racism is a “Southern problem,” the data show otherwise. In my hometown of Akron, Ohio, black babies are twice as likely as white babies to be born very premature. Black children are three and a half times more likely than their white classmates to fall below 3rd grade reading proficiency levels. In adulthood, black people in Akron are three times more likely than whites to be on food stamps, and four and a half times more likely than whites to be incarcerated. (Source: The Fund for Our Economic Future).
I suspect Brian Frederick wished, as I did, that the REI training would give us the answers, would arm us with the “five simple steps to end systemic racism in your community.” Sadly, no such simple steps exist. On the contrary, our nation has some hard work ahead of it.
Only after that honest reckoning can we begin to strategize on how we can create different, more equitable outcomes.
In the area of economic development and community building, we need to double down on a Growth & Opportunity agenda. This agenda begins with the premise that the only economic growth worth having is the kind that intentionally connects wealth and opportunity to all members of our community. When we truly embrace a Growth & Opportunity agenda, we will see the choices before us with new eyes. We will understand that some so-called “economic wins” only serve to exacerbate income inequality, overwhelmingly to the detriment of people of color. We will also see that we can be intentional about pursuing economic growth strategies that are structured around opportunity, and that by doing so, we will simultaneously construct future prosperity and deconstruct the systemic inequity that has plagued us for so long.
The challenge is daunting. But we have to start somewhere. Pursuing a true Growth & Opportunity agenda is as good a first step as any.
Christine Amer Mayer
This week Philanthropy Ohio welcomes guest blogger Lisa S. Courtice, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for The Columbus Foundation, sharing her expertise on collaborations.
Why is collaboration, or working with others to achieve something, important to Philanthropy?
Collaboration is important to philanthropy because the issues we help address are too big to tackle alone and because the risk factors of collaboration help keep us (professionals in philanthropy) real.
I believe that it is a privilege to work in philanthropy and to be charged with helping to tackle some of our community’s most pressing problems and to be effective, collaboration is essential. Even the largest philanthropists today are too small in relationship to the really serious problems that we have in central Ohio, let alone our country or world.
I will never forget hearing Melinda Gates speak at a conference in California. She talked about people thinking that the wealth of the Gates Foundation could solve big problems. She reminded us that the assets of the Gates Foundation, $40 billion…indeed, an enormous about of wealth, could not fund one year of operations for the California Public Schools.
For most of us, our ambitions and those of our respective organizations, outstrip our resources.
Collaboration has many benefits, one of the greatest being it helps to keep us real. I believe that those of us who work in philanthropy are at great risk of contracting the professional disease known as insularism. While we would like to say that we are truly effective in the pursuit of our work, there are increasing numbers of individuals questioning the role philanthropy plays and whether it is achieving its true potential. In the words of one grantee, “Foundations are like the building ledge on which nonprofit pigeons sit—not the wind under their wings that make them fly, but a helpful something, nevertheless.”
And yet, we are needed aren’t we? What would nonprofits do in our absence?
We sometimes fail to remember the most significant contributor to the sustainability of the nonprofit sector is indeed public funding, not philanthropy.
A number of foundations in northern California commissioned a market survey (involving interviews with grantees, government officials, and other stakeholders) to assess how foundations are viewed and what beneficial roles they are thought to play. Interestingly, the response to the survey was a complete absence of any positive assessment of the work of foundations.
Think about this statement. There are over 56,000 foundations in our country and the majority operate without staff and simply direct financial support to nonprofits. Yet the feedback from this survey was that the contributed values of these philanthropy players is at best NEUTRAL. This should give each of us reason to step back to think about the real value of our work.
For me, the most interesting findings from this study were the phrases most often used to describe foundation staff and board members. We might hope these words were efficient, helpful, supportive, or high value-added. But those foundations that underwrote the survey were surprised to find the terms to describe both them and their colleagues were: arrogant, heuristic, full of hubris, self-confident to the point of overpowering, and having a complete inability to listen.
People in philanthropy are used to being flattered and told just how critical their support is to the work of nonprofits. Despite this sense of valuable self-worth, there is the very real possibility that many of those we actually seek to support view us through a much different lens and experience our efforts at contributing to their work as little more than a necessary force to be tolerated.
We may be tempted to say this could possibly be true of other grantmakers, but certainly our own grantees would respond differently. And while we would all like to believe our work is of the highest value, in fact that actual perceptions of those who should know, our customers, could well be completely opposite from our own.
If we are to move towards greater effectiveness within philanthropy, we must first acknowledge that there is both the need and opportunity for improvement. One way to make a meaningful commitment to the pursuit of philanthropic effectiveness is to begin to re-vision the role of “grantmaker…….. to investment collaborator in community well-being.”
I suggest collaboration — collaborating with a variety of stakeholders in the development of our long-term investment strategies — helps to mitigate insularism.
When we seek to become consumer of ideas and experience from other players and other sectors. When we engage in dialogue with these stakeholders, our own strategies will be more realistically grounded in what is happening in the market as opposed to what we perceived to happening in the market. This will then give us a greater likelihood of being more effective in our work.
Our connecting with the field in a more direct manner facilitates a flattening of the hierarchies in knowledge sharing and in that way promises to enhance not only our own understanding of the challenges at hand, but also to participate in building this shared knowledge base.
Do we run the risk of projecting the image that we actually know what we are doing when, in point of fact, we may know less than we care to admit? The insular nature of the philanthropic community combined with the power dynamics, may lead us to overstate our knowledge regarding the right thing as well as our capacity to do it. Collaborating helps bring us back to reality.
Collaborations and collaborating is important for philanthropy because the help keep us real. They keep us real because they are risky.
Inherently, collaboration says something is happening outside of one’s immediate control. The various dynamics that make it risky include:
1. Not knowing the answer. The fundamental premise of collaboration is that you can use it to solve complex problems that are beyond the function of one domain or expertise. That means each participant needs to be comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity. Most people have built their careers — perhaps even their identity — on being the expert. Feeling ignorant is not a comfortable feeling.
2. Unclear or uncomfortable roles. Role and responsibilities in the collaboration space tend not to be hierarchical; they are often fluid, changing from phase to phase of the work. This can be especially hard for senior leaders, because it means being a team member, not the team leader.
3. Too much talking, not enough doing. Collaboration means a shift from thinking big ideas alone, and more into the real-time mess of problem solving with others. Shifting work from “I tell, they do” to a “We think together” approach will appear at first to be all about talking. But thinking together closes a gap.
4. Fear of fighting. Collaborating means dealing with conflicting priorities. “Turf” isn’t always clear. If you avoid conflict, or don’t know how to fight effectively, nothing will happen. Knowing how to debate the tradeoffs between many viable options means knowing how to argue with each other about the business in more open and visible ways. Not doing it well, or doing it wrong — or simply losing? Very risky.
5. More work. Collaboration happens on top of other work. Participants are already plenty busy with their “day job” and the new project may be especially stressful because of this. Until the problems that any collaboration project is aimed to fix gets solved, a collaboration project can often be overwhelming. Most people describe collaboration with rose colored glasses: If they would just collaborate, then they would do better! But collaboration is about the friction of ideas and the forging of new ways of working. That is not easy. And it makes new demands on all of us.
6. It’s hard to know who to praise and who to blame. Collaborative projects are judged on the outcome, more than the individual efforts than went into them. Leaders have less visibility into who did what. If things go right, they worry about rewarding the wrong people. If things go wrong, they complain about no longer having a single point of accountability.
Collaborating…working with others to develop strategies, to align resources…is essential to be the most effective grantmaker possible. Navigating these risk factors makes us vulnerable and helps to keep us real. And collaboration increases the likelihood that we develop greater effectiveness not at doing what think is right from an insulated perch, but doing what we have experienced and learned together is right.
Lisa S. Courtice
I’m currently in my second year of a two-year fellowship at the Nord Family Foundation. The purpose of the fellowship is to learn more about the field of philanthropy, serve as a program officer, and to prepare for a future in the nonprofit sector. During the week of March 3, 2014, at the persuasion of my Executive Director John Mullaney, I had the privilege of participating in my first Foundations on the Hill along with other colleagues from Philanthropy Ohio. The reason John needed to persuade me was due to skepticism I share about politics.
ICYMI: There is a newly released study on how Millennials are “deeply confused” about politics. As a 26 year old, I too fit into this category with my generation. However, my hope is that other generations don’t view us as disinterested, politically ignorant, or that our only reference of politics is through CNN and watching House of Cards on Netflix. But rather, in this age of information, my hope is that Millennials are understood as more aware of politician hypocrisy, more understanding of the complexity of issues and less willing to think “black-and-white” on grey issues.
*Stepping down from the Soap Box*
The Most Memorable Moment
Before we headed to the Hill we heard passionate speeches from a number of different people representing government, foundations, nonprofits and business, but all with the same powerful message: protect and promote the charitable sector. Some of the speakers shared viewpoints that echoed some of the familiar rhetoric that many of my peers tend to tune out. But, some of the more compelling presentations came from the nonprofit organizations we partner with every day through philanthropy and are trying to solve the world’s problems.
These organizations shared their testimonies, from the front line, on the impact policy has on nonprofits and the damages that can be done by disincentivizing charitable giving. These latter presenters energized and further enlightened me to the importance of why we were heading to the Hill. While on the Hill I met with more than 10 representatives over a two-day span, but the most memorable for me was our first meeting.
Our first meeting was with Republican Senator Rob Portman. Our conversation with him was very easygoing and he made it clear that he was in support of protecting the charitable sector. The conversation was almost too easy for me, so after we took our photo with him and were about to head to our next meeting I stopped and asked him:
“As a young man trying to decide which side of the aisle (I wanted to say Great Wall of China) to align with as I move forward in life… seeing that I am passionate about my faith and almost equally passionate about social justice, what would be your advice?”
Senator Portman gave me a sincere look and said that being Republican doesn’t mean that you can’t be involved in social justice and he referenced his work on ending sex trafficking; he ended his statement by saying that the party needed more young people and diversity and asked me to follow up with him. I don’t know if his speech was inspiring enough for me to choose which side of this Great Wall of Washington I pledge allegiance to, but it definitely was thought provoking and has been on my mind.
So after meeting with Senator Portman I didn’t ask any other politicians that question but I was very impressed at the number of representatives willing to hear our story. Some of our meetings were conversational and others were presentational, sometimes to stone faces. However, I had an All-Star team with me that really understood how to navigate things, break the ice and be very passionate and informative about why we were there.
Would I Do It Again?
After it was all over someone asked me would I do it again. I most certainly would, and I think there should be more foundations and nonprofits joining along with us as well! I’m looking forward to the years ahead going to Foundations on the Hill and continuing to advocate on behalf of those we serve.
Here are some of my Tweetable thoughts from DC:
- @BarryDoggett knows everyone, he must live in D.C. & @ClaudiaHerrold is like the @HilaryClinton of Philanthropy. She gets things done!
- Does every man in D.C. (young and old) have grey hair? #notetoself #stressincluded
- @CapitolHill hallways look like a college campus. #representativeaides = extensions of Reps. Brains. #Millennials fuel D.C.!
- #Notetoself when in D.C. wear comfortable shoes #walkingincluded
- Glad to be in D.C. advocating for a bi-partisan and noncontroversial topic: philanthropy. Many of the Reps. say we are the easiest conversation and a #BreathofFreshAir
- @OHIO Birthday Parties are where the political deals get made!
- Next year @PhilanthropyOH we need to offer something to be remembered by! Maybe free hugs in the name of “love for humanity.”
Until next time,
Nord Family Foundation
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.