What I’ll Be Reading (and Re-Reading) This Weekend

As I’m sure is the case for many of you, this first week back after the “unofficial” end of summer has been busy.

While resuming my regular workflow after the long weekend, I noticed several important pieces of news to emerge from CEP staff, board members and other foundation leaders this week.

I’d like to put together a list here to ensure that none of these important pieces go unnoticed, and to continue the thoughtful conversations that have already begun. In case you’re looking to take a break from packing up shorts and flip flops I invite you to read along, and offer up your thoughts or other suggestions for weekend reading in the comments.

Last weekend, CEP President Phil Buchanan was interviewed by CNN on the unique challenges of giving money away in the context of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – chief among them, taking time to make sure your goals are clearly defined and the means to evaluate your impact well-established.

On Tuesday, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker released an incredibly thoughtful and candid letter to mark the completion of one full year in his role. Walker’s letter opened up the conversation for foundation leaders to provide honest reflections on progress and challenges.

In response, Phil Buchanan penned a column in The Chronicle of Philanthropy praising Walker’s honesty while calling for more foundation leaders who are open to receiving critical feedback; leaders who strive to evaluate the success of their work and act on valuable lessons learned through failure.

Just as important as learning from one’s own failures is learning from other organizations’ successes, argued Phil Buchanan in a blog post on Wednesday. Buchanan looked back at the incredible progress made by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the Gill Foundation, among many others, on advancing the cause of marriage equality and gay rights. Their strategy, which involved establishing bold, collaborative, long-term goals, while allowing for mid-course evaluation and redirection, is a valuable one for foundations to learn from, argued Buchanan.

On Thursday, Hilary Pennington, vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression Program and Fay Twersky, director the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group, made a similar argument to Buchanan’s earlier claims that it’s imperative for funders to gather feedback from the organizations and people with whom their foundations’ work.

“But how?” In response to that pervasive question, Pennington and Twersky announced the creation of the Fund for Shared Insight, which will award grants to nonprofit organizations that seek new ways to get feedback and use the findings to improve their programs and services.

Perhaps gathering such feedback would initiate an honest conversation between funders and grantees about the true cost of their work, wrote Daniel Stid, director of the  Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative in a blog post Thursday. Stid pointed out that both grantees and funders bear responsibility for creating a successful feedback loop. Foundations, he wrote, are not the only ones that must take a risk – nonprofit leaders must be willing to speak up “when their organization’s long run effectiveness is at stake.

Now it’s time to hear from you – please read the above pieces and let us know what you think. Will more foundations begin to make decisions based on regular and comprehensive feedback at foundations the rule, rather than the exception? Or must we continue to push further for the common voice to be heard?

Emily Giudice is the senior coordinator of Marketing and Programming at CEP.

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