The CEP blog is a busy place throughout the year. In fact, this is the 91st post on the blog in 2018! While we highly recommend reading every post (you can subscribe in the box on the right to make it easy to do that!), we know that time is short — always, but especially at this time of year. So, to get in on the year-end list action that takes over the internet for the entire month of December, we’ve put together a digest of the 10 most-read posts on the CEP blog in 2018. These posts come from program officers, trustees, nonprofit leaders, and CEP staff. They cover topics ranging from diversity, equity, and inclusion to foundation governance to equine metaphors for the sector.
We hope this provides a cohesive digest for thought-provoking reading as you recharge and prepare to head into 2019 with a renewed energy and commitment to philanthropic effectiveness. Thank you for your readership in 2018. We look forward to continuing the conversation next year.
1. The Case for General Operating Support by Andrea Bretting, Michael Jordan, and Mailee Walker
“While it seemed intuitive that project-specific support gave us more control over how funds were being spent and allowed us to tell a better ‘story’ about the impact of the grant, we actually found the opposite to be true. Project-specific support only provided a narrow lens into the organizations we were supporting. We would create a dance for ourselves and our grantees where we each pretended that the organization knew exactly how the funds would be spent in the following year of the grant. It was like we were on a tightrope together, holding on to a strand of a story that could shift at any moment if the winds changed direction or speed.” Read more.
2. Too Many Foundation Boards are Failing at Diversity by Phil Buchanan
“Overall, of the board members at the 111 foundations that responded to the survey, only 15 percent were people of color. Foundation boards must do better. It’s just that simple. In an increasingly racially diverse country at a time of resurgent, open racism — and in light of this country’s history of racial oppression — it’s inexcusable not to have greater diversity in the boardroom.” Read more.
3. Making It Count: The Evolution of the Ford Foundation’s Diversity Data Collection by Megan Morrison and Chris Cardona
“As a funder, we know we can play a role in normalizing diversity data collection and initiating conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the fields in which we work. And we know we have the potential to cause harm if we raise those topics in an unclear or ineffective way. For example, we have long collected diversity data from organizations that are applying for funding. But we haven’t always been clear on why we collect it and how it should be used. This lack of clarity led to a lot of counting and box-ticking, but not to meaningful conversations or changes in practice — both internally and with the organizations we support. Over the last year, we decided to revise our entire proposal process, including questions about DEI. In doing so, we reexamined our intentions and our own DEI goals.” Read more.
4. Essential Responsibilities of Foundation Governance by Phil Buchanan
“Governance matters across sectors, of course. But within the nonprofit sector, foundation governance is especially crucial. After all, foundations have a significant impact on nonprofits, fields, and communities. But, unlike for an operating nonprofit, there aren’t a lot of naturally occurring feedback loops for private foundations if the CEO or executive director — and/or his or her staff — have significant weaknesses (AKA “areas for growth”) or, worse, are just mailing it in. That’s why the board is so crucial.” Read more.
5. Clydesdales in a World of Unicorns by Kevin Bolduc
“What metaphor might better encapsulate the collaborative mindset we really need? Close your eyes, and resorting to another equine metaphor, picture the noble draft horse. Perhaps I’ve been influenced by decades of Super Bowl commercials, but I see them harnessed together, pulling a heavy load. Is that a funder in the front, or is it a grantee? Who knows! It’s hard to tell them apart and it really doesn’t matter. They’re all working together to pull bales of hay — or social progress — forward.” Read more.
6. We Need More Checkbook Philanthropy by Rick Moyers
“‘Checkbook philanthropist’ has become a pejorative, and that’s a shame. Simply writing checks to effective organizations doing important work can be an honorable approach to philanthropy and doesn’t have to be mindless, haphazard, or ineffectual. Checkbook philanthropy isn’t necessarily the opposite of strategic philanthropy. Indeed, strategic funders can pursue their goals while fully funding grantees’ operating costs. But, in my experience, far too few actually do this. More checkbook philanthropy could go a long way toward solving some of the chronic problems with how nonprofit organizations are capitalized.” Read more.
7. Foundations Should Fund What Nonprofits Really Need by Anthony Richardson
“While it is easy for a company’s board to measure how successful their investment is by looking at the bottom line, it is not as easy for funders to do that with nonprofits. As such, funders should give deference to the nonprofit leaders who often have a better understanding of their organizational needs and direction. And while some nonprofits are uncomfortable asking for what they need, and thus apply for what they think funders want to support, the proverbial ‘funder-knows-best’ style of grantmaking is not conducive to forming or sustaining relationships with a servant leadership ethos.” Read more.
8. The Predicament of Strategic Philanthropy by Katherine Fulton
“What we need now is an integration, a new whole, that incorporates wisdom and practice from many approaches, choosing what is best for the situation at hand. We must accept the need to let go of control in the face of all we do not know and cannot know. And we must get better at building the necessary, trusting relationships that will bring out the best in people and enable us to co-create a better future. This is no small task. Strategic philanthropy, in the wrong hands, can suck the soul out of giving, choosing instead to make investments in technical fixes that can never catalyze true, lasting transformation. Great philanthropy transcends business-like transactions and instead requires wisdom, imagination, and courage. That is its challenge, and its promise.” Read more.
9. Philanthropy’s “New Power” Challenges by Grace Nicolette
“The default mindsets in philanthropy are much more old power than we’d like to admit. To be clear, though, the authors do not hold up new power as an inevitable or unalloyed good. The image in my mind is like that of fire — incredibly powerful and useful when rightly used, and also a lethal force that can run amok with devastating consequences. Upon reflection, I see a few challenges that this ascendant phenomenon of new power presents for the philanthropic sector.” Read more.
10. Deepening Commitment in a Moment of Change by Rose Letwin
“My commitment to the foundation’s mission is long term. It takes years, sometimes decades, for us to protect the places that science tells us are important, and the foundation — and our grantees — have evolved as the political, social, and economic contexts have changed. It’s important to take the long view because the problems we are working against are complex and deeply rooted, but recent changes in our country and the world have prompted me to make a difficult decision now.” Read more.
Ethan McCoy is senior writer – development and communications at CEP.