Tag: Eileen Ellsworth

Grantmakers share how nonprofits can deepen relationships beyond dollars

By Hudson Kaplan-Allen
WRAG’s 2016 Summer Intern

The second in WRAG’s Nonprofit Summer Learning Series, “Navigating the Grants Process: From Initial Contact to Long-Term Partnership,” focused on how nonprofit organizations can build and maintain strong and positive relationships with their funders after receiving a grant. The session was led by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s (CFNV) president, Eileen Ellsworth, and featured a panel of experienced grantmaking professionals from across the Greater Washington region.

Ellsworth started the discussion by asking one of CFNV’s grantees to speak about her organization’s experience throughout the grant process. Jessica Fuchs from Serving Together shared her nonprofit’s relationship over the years with CFNV and made the point that, while the funding has been extremely helpful, “it’s really about the connections the [Community Foundation] has helped make.” She emphasized that the support and partnership CFNV has provided has helped validate and promote Serving Together’s work to other funders, individual donors, and the general public, and has helped expand the organization’s reach as a nonprofit organization.

The panelists — Timothy McCue of the Potomac Health Foundation, Danielle Reyes of the Crimsonbridge Foundation, and Naomi Smouha of Capital One — shared insights into the grantmaking process and gave examples of strong nonprofit relationships they have formed in their time as grantmakers. All of the panelists agreed that they find it important both to compare notes and best practices with their grantmaker peers and network within the nonprofit world to find the best partners.

Smouha compared the process to dating, pointing out that it’s smart to go on a few dates and get an idea of who she is working with before she “brings you home to mom.” Every quarter, Capital One hosts one-hour information sessions to allow potential grantees to get an idea of the partnerships they are looking for. They want to make sure they are being completely transparent every step of the way.

Reyes pointed out the importance of nonprofit organizations using Twitter to form connections with funders. At Crimonsonbridge, one of the ways they look to see who wants to partner with them is by checking their Twitter feed and followers. She uses the social media platform to research whose work best fits the foundation’s mission. “We don’t just follow back anyone,” she said.

All of the funders drove home the importance of developing and maintaining an honest and open relationship. “Don’t wait to tell your funder that something is going awry with one of your projects,” said McCue. “Be forthcoming with them.” On top of that, nonprofits are often tempted to follow the money. Instead, McCue said, organizations should be sure to stick with their missions. All three panelists said they use interim or progress reports to check-in with their grantees and make sure they are on track with their projects. If a nonprofit hits a roadblock and decides to change their approach after receiving a grant, they should be open with their funder about the changes. If you go through a staff turnover at your organization, give your funder a heads up that you are going through a transition, said Reyes. “Nonprofits should look at their funders beyond just a dollar relationship,” she said. Explore the partnership by asking questions and being open to suggestions. The next in the Nonprofit Summer Series, “Having Tough Conversations with Your Funder,” on August 19, will address the ways that some of these more difficult conversations between grantmakers and grantees can be resolved and can be used to deepen the relationship.

Why we’re getting on the map: The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia

We’ve heard from several funders recently about why they are participating in WRAG’s Get on the Map campaign with the Foundation Center. These funders appreciate the value of both sharing their grants data with their colleagues in the local philanthropic community, and having access to their colleagues’ data in order to work more strategically and efficiently.

The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is one of the latest funders to sign on to the campaign.

According to foundation president Eileen Ellsworth,

“The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is thrilled to participate in the ‘Get on the Map’ initiative. As a funder, our role is to remain informed about the needs of the region, identify the organizations working to address those needs, and understand the funders interested in supporting their efforts. Our community is so rich with both nonprofits and funders. Not only will this powerful tool shine a light on philanthropy trends in the region and help us to guide our future work, but it will also help us more strategically target and coordinate grant dollars to support the greatest needs in the region.”

Says Jen McCollum, Vice President of Donor Relations,

“Armed with the data generated through this initiative, we will be better equipped to educate our donors about the needs of the region. We know there are great things being done by nonprofits in the area but we also know there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. This concrete data will help us better direct our efforts, inform our donors and generate increased partnerships with like-minded funders in the region.”

Get on the Map is an initiative to improve the quality, timeliness, and availability of grants data for and about funders. By e-reporting their grants data to the Foundation Center, WRAG members will help to build an interactive mapping platform that will allow members to see who is funding what and where in our region. To learn more about the platform and how to contribute your data, watch this recent webinar or sign up for the next webinar on April 9.

Book Review: Do More Than Give – The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

By Eileen M. Ellsworth
The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia

What does it take to effect change in the social sector? That is the overarching question of Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie R. Crutchfield, John V. Kania, and Mark R. Kramer (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011). Three of the most prominent thought leaders on national trends in philanthropy hold up models of “catalytic” donors who truly move the needle on complex social issues.

Catalytic donors utterly commit to a cause, mobilize an array of relationships and assets to reach goals, and create an impact that is measurable and impressive.

How do such donors accomplish so much? Do More than Give analyzes just that. It provides a playbook for donors who are ready to learn from some truly amazing and ultimately inspiring stories of social impact.

Most donors, whether they are individuals, foundations, or corporations, believe that they are in the business of “giving away money.” They select a charity, give a grant, and in return get a report back from the charity in six months to a year on how the money was spent. This is an important form of community based philanthropy, especially for donors who feel connected to home and the concomitant commitment to help local nonprofits with their work.

But the authors of Do More Than Give hope to inspire action well beyond the current model of philanthropy where the benefit flows in a linear fashion from donor to grantee to ultimate service recipient. In fact, the book isn’t about how to “give away money” at all. Rather, it’s about how to become an active participant in and leader of a collective movement to address social issues.

Step one: “Commit to a Cause:” A donor must first pick a narrow focus for his or her philanthropy. Without focus, there can be no impact. Donors must get clear about what cause to choose. This is an absolute condition precedent to catalytic philanthropy, and not an easy task to accomplish. Committing to one among many compelling community causes is a challenge for any donor. This is especially true for community foundations that are accountable to a broad range of donors with many concerns. It also poses a difficulty for corporate givers that want to support the existing philanthropy of their employees in just one geographic area.

First, pick a cause you know well and that resonates with you on a deep and significant level. That is the internal inquiry: Is it a cause you truly, deeply care about? Then, pick a cause that also appears ripe for change, one that has already been embraced by a broad spectrum of community donors and leaders with a likelihood of success. That is the external inquiry: Does this cause already have momentum in the external environment? Finally, ask yourself “Where do I personally have the most leverage?” The answer to that question will help point the way.

Take a hard look at the facts and use available data to make this important first decision. Once you have committed to a cause, the “six practices” then come into play.

Practice # 1: Advocate for Change: Most donors run from advocacy, not embrace it. There are many rational reasons for this. Advocacy can be risky. You can make enemies that you would rather not make in the process of advocating for a cause. Advocacy is time consuming. It takes communications skills that many donors do not think they have. And it takes focus, practice and (above all) persistence. But Crutchfield and her co-authors make a very compelling case that without advocacy, systemic change rarely happens. It takes a lot more than writing a check to a nonprofit to effect change in the social sector. Advocacy can make the difference.

Practice # 2 – Blend Profit with Purpose: This practice is particularly though not exclusively aimed at the capabilities of corporate donors. Sometimes, the core business practices of a company, as opposed to the philanthropic donations they make, can be the greatest trick in their bag to effect social change. Social entrepreneurship that inures to the benefit of a previously disadvantaged group can end up developing markets and industries that complement a company’s business and add to its bottom line profits.

Practice # 3 – Forge Nonprofit Peer Networks: Nonprofits are a piece of the puzzle in the catalytic philanthropy model. In essence, they are service providers with their finger on the pulse of key community issues. By nature, they compete for resources with other similar (and even disparate) nonprofits. Together, however, they are a force that any donor who hopes to accomplish real, systemic change must engage. Catalytic donors not only convene nonprofits, they actually get them to become mutually accountable to each other and to the larger network. If anything good happens, it happens because of the larger network.

Practice # 4 – Empower the People: Here, the authors encourage every donor to find a way to listen to the people who the donor intends to benefit, that is, to the ultimate service recipients of the nonprofit grantees. To the extent there is a feedback loop on philanthropy, it usually comes from the nonprofit service provider back to the donor by way of an evaluation or a report six months to one year after the grant has been made. But before any donor can truly understand the impact of its philanthropy, a dialogue that includes the ultimate service recipients is absolutely necessary.

Practice # 5 – Lead Adaptively: Catalytic donors must be adaptive leaders who possess certain hallmark capabilities. They must be able to sense opportunities and changes in the dialogue, motivate key players, and avoid driving their own agenda to the detriment of others. They must be able to lead, motivate, negotiate, listen, and most of all adapt to the shifting landscape. The authors believe that examples of adaptive leadership are rare but they do exist, and stories of brilliant adaptive leadership on the part of individual donors are provided throughout the book.

Practice # 6 – Learn in Order to Change: Continuous learning is critical to catalytic philanthropy. Catalytic donors do not focus on classic evaluation tools such as grantee reports on service outputs. Rather, they are more interested in building a system that teaches the donor, their grantees, and the service recipients what is working and what is not working in real time. When this system emerges, catalytic donors begin to get critical feedback, continuously learning and adapting to what they learn, and ultimately inculcating a culture of learning in their organization. If you want to participate in social change, you must continuously learn.

Conclusion: Do More Than Give walks a donor through the stages of donor development, from (1) writing checks supporting many disparate causes, to (2) developing a strategic focus, to (3) becoming a catalyst for true change on a complex social issue. It is a useful and thought provoking work for every kind of donor, in any kind of community. If you are looking for a practical, step by step manual for how to become a more effective donor, this book has a very great deal to offer.

WRAG member Eileen M. Ellsworth has been the president of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia since 2005. With $33 million in managed assets, the Community Foundation engages donors to help grow philanthropy in the region. She also serves on the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Board and on the Loudoun County CEO Cabinet.