Posts filed under ‘Governance’

Good grantmaking and good intentions

Heather-Peeler-headshotPhilanthropy Ohio is pleased to welcome Heather Peeler, vice president of member and partner engagement at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, as our guest blogger this week. You’ll have a chance to meet and learn from Heather at the Philanthropy Forward ’15 conference, where she’s leading two sessions to help increase your effectiveness as a grantmaker.

Now that summer is in full swing, I convinced my husband that we should have an informal backyard barbecue with some good friends. Given busy schedules, I wanted to host a casual gathering where everyone could relax and enjoy one another’s company.

plate of food at BBQHowever, if you had seen me the days before and after the event, you would have thought I was planning something for the Queen of England, not a casual party with friends. There was extensive menu planning (simple burgers and dogs wouldn’t do), a signature cocktail and an excursion to the home goods store for fancy patio lights and new planters. I was so stressed by my “casual” barbecue, that I’m not even sure if anyone actually had a fun and relaxing time. I certainly didn’t.

This is a perfect example of how our intentions and our behaviors are often out of alignment. It happens in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. And sadly it happens in grantmaking, too. As grantmakers, we have the best of intentions to collaborate with others, help our grantees become stronger and to learn from our failures and mistakes. Yet our behaviors and practices often get in the way of making those intentions a reality.

GEO-LogoGrantmakers for Effective Organizations has long studied the types of grantmaker practices that support grantee success. We know that nonprofit resilience is based on the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and that restricted funding hamstrings this flexibility. We know that evaluation provides a powerful way to garner insights into what’s working and why, but few grantmakers share evaluation results with grantees and others who can benefit. We know that collaborative efforts to pool resources and align strategies can yield faster progress, yet we struggle to give up control and let go of our unique ways of doing business. Finally, we know that we make better decisions when we engage with the community and deepen our understanding, but we struggle to prioritize the time that’s needed to build relationships.

If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. GEO’s recent field study of more than 600 foundations found that 93 percent of respondents think it is important or very important to provide support that will strengthen grantee organizations, yet 45 percent rarely or never support capacity-building activities. Eighty-one percent provide some level of general operating support, but most dedicate only 25 percent or less of their grantmaking budgets to it.

taking notes at meetingOver the years of working with grantmakers to help boost their and their grantees effectiveness, we’ve come to realize that knowledge of effective practice is not enough. Many smarter grantmaking practices are easier said than done. One doesn’t become a master collaborator or learning organization overnight. As part of the process, we should give careful consideration to our practices as well as our values. In particular, reflecting on current culture and values and how they align with practice can yield insights about why our organizations may not be making the progress we desire.

We have discovered many great ways that GEO members are shaping productive cultures through their actions, big and small. Here are a few that stuck with me:

  • The Cleveland Foundation nurtures a culture of learning by hosting “Fred Talks” (named after its founder) to better connect and learn with members of the community. The grantmaker convenes residents and community leaders for in-depth conversations in order to tap ideas about how the grantmaker can best pursue its mission. You can read more in Learning Together.
  • symphony concertIn GEO’s Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, we highlighted the work of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and its commitment to strengthening the arts sector in Cleveland. It has made general operating support a key part of its strategy. By devoting a large proportion of its grantmaking to flexible support, the grantmaker has seen its grantees grow sustainably and have a larger impact in the communities they serve.
  • Jim Canales, one of GEO’s founders and the CEO of the Barr Foundation, talks about how important it is to mind the small things – like making sure program officers keep their phones tucked away when they are meeting with grantees or others in the community as a sign of respect.

Our desire for strong and effective grantees is within our reach. To achieve it, we must build our knowledge about and practice smarter grantmaking. And, we must give careful consideration to where our values, intentions and practice diverge.

I’m looking forward to my time in Ohio next month, hope to see you there!

Heather Peeler


August 3, 2015 at 11:43 am Leave a comment

Philanthropy Ohio Achieves Top Rating

Philanthropy Ohio achieved Charity Navigator’s coveted four-star rating for sound fiscal management and a commitment to accountability and transparency.

Continue Reading September 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

Don’t forget Ohio’s Reporting Requirements for Nonprofits

Since so many foundations are submitting federal financial information returns this week, it’s a good time for a reminder about what Ohio law requires.

Ohio nonprofits – called charitable trusts in the Ohio Revised Code, regardless of whether they are established in corporate or trust form – have annual financial reporting and registration requirements with the Attorney General’s office. This year, nonprofits with a fiscal year that ended after November 30, 2011 need to comply with these requirements using an online system that Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office created last year. The website has an extensive user’s guide as well as tips for using the registration tool.

Ohio charities also must comply with the Secretary of State’s regulations, which require that charities file any changes to their articles of incorporation or statutory agent. Additionally, every five years nonprofits must file a Statement of Continued Existence (along with a filing fee of $25). Not sure when your foundation last filed this form? You can search the online database and see when you’re due to file it, although the Secretary of State’s office should send reminders four months before the statement is due.

May 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm 3 comments

“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help.”

“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help.” With that opening remark, said with a smile in her voice, Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS Lois Lerner began a recent webinar presentation on the division’s latest activities. She assured us that, although the teleconference lines were all muted, she could hear the chuckles from those listening in from around the country. Thanks, Independent Sector, for a great webinar focused on important federal regulatory issues related to the nonprofit sector.

I learned a few interesting things during the update by Ms. Lerner, who has been director of the EO Division since 2005 and who led the re-design of the Form 990. First, by the end of last year, the IRS had auto-revoked the tax exempt status of 396,600 organizations. These auto-revocations were mandated by the Pension Protection Act (passed in 2006) for organizations that haven’t filed returns for 3 years. I’ll have to take a look at the list to see how many of these revoked nonprofits are in Ohio; the previous count was over 13,000.

Lerner also discussed the division’s new EO Select Check,  which she described as a one-stop, online search tool to access information on the country’s 1.8 million charities. It will be a handy and convenient tool that funders and individuals can use to check the status of organizations asking for money. It will be updated monthly from the IRS master file.

Ms. Lerner also remarked that the IRS is using information obtained from the Form 990 – including its multiple schedules – to build risk models to “improve case selection.” And, finally, the IRS has released the 2011 Form 990, although there are a few schedules and instructions that are still in draft form. Do you have comments to share about the Form? Send them to

Claudia Y.W. Herrold
Vice president, communications & public policy

February 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm 2 comments

Govern More, Manage Less

BoardSource’s new book, Govern More, Manage Less, prompts a Q & A blog post on current governance issues with Outi Flynn, director of knowledge resources at BoardSource.

OGF: Is BoardSource seeing more issues related to balancing governance and management?
We have always tried to clarify the primary differences between governance and management. Not an easy task as the line is not always a clear one – sometimes it is difficult to determine on which side of the fence an issue belongs. This dilemma leads us to stress what we call a “constructive partnership” between the chief executive and the chair. The two leaders need to work together in regular communication and guide their respective teams to focus on issues that they should handle. This becomes much easier when the two leaders are in agreement on the boundaries.

OGF: What is the biggest change in governance practices these days?
Outi: Some of the hot issues that we observe in the boardrooms today: higher fundraising expectations, difficulty dealing with the changing of the guard from one generation to the next, rebranding, adapting to social media.  Practices change slowly but accepting change as necessary is inevitable.

OGF: The book talks about procedural vs. performance accountability: what does this mean and what are its impacts?
Outi: We can probably credit three recent “authoritative” measures that have had an impact on the increased attention to accountability. The Sarbanes Oxley Act woke up the nonprofit sector as it got worried about similar regulation controlling the diverse organizations on our side. The Senate Finance Committee a few years ago spent countless hours focusing on specific tax-exempt practices. And now the new Form 990 wants all filing organizations to explain their governance processes, not just to state whether specific policies are in place. All this attention has forced nonprofit boards to take a deeper look at their own household items and how they carry on their governance work. Procedure became the hot button issue – maybe at times to the detriment of the overall performance of the organization.

OGF: The book suggests that nonprofits are focusing more on procedural accountability: do you see this trend changing?
uti: Compliance – paying attention to legal requirements or procedural accountability – is the base of good governance but it can’t be an end in itself. Exceptional boards get their ducks in a row and then start focusing on how to make a real difference. They understand that making a difference is the ultimate purpose of their organization so paying attention to impact is their driving force. Any board that has realized this is paying attention to performance measures.

OGF: How will a foundation’s board and the foundation itself benefit from shifting to an appropriate balance between governance and management?
There are times when a board needs to take a step back and get more involved in the operational issues. During a chief executive transition the board needs to keep a closer eye on the operations to ensure that nothing falls between the cracks, that attention is paid to the critical issues even when daily leadership is missing. As mentioned above, when the organization struggles with finances – due to the tough economy or mismanagement – the board’s fiduciary duty requires it to get closer to the numbers and processes to ensure the organization remains viable and is able to readjust its activities appropriately. During calm periods the board needs to assume its governance role: keep track of the past but focus on the future.

August 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

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