Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thought Provoking Grantmaking Ideas from the Council on Foundations Annual Conference

The Council on Foundations has just completed their annual conference in Denver and thanks to Kris Putnam-Walkerly there is an excellent set of articles on the conference at her Philanthropy411 blog. Kris put together this year’s team of bloggers and they are a diverse and distinguished group of “reporter/commentators.” And yes they provide both the objective reporting of what was said and their own commentary on the content. I have been reading all of the blog posts and I find them both informative and thought provoking. I suggest you head over to Philanthrophy411 and check out all the posts too.

Before the conference, Kris asked a LinkedIn group, “What Do You Want To Learn From the Council on Foundations Conference?” and posted some of the responses on her blog including mine:

“Something I’d like to read about is trends in grantmaking. I think that there are two trends in opposite directions…It seems that some foundations are becoming more demanding – more complicated grant applications, increased evaluation requirements and less money to grant. Other foundations seem to be streamlining with less red tape, using the generic online application, allowing staff to make some grants rather than just the Board opening the opportunity for grants throughout the year rather than once or twice. Is there anything to this? I’d like to hear about it.”

The three themes for the conference were: Social Innovation, Social Change, and Social Justice. And there was a lot of discussion touching on the topics I raised. Here are some highlights:

-Speakers challenging grantmakers to make longer term commitments to social change which takes a lot longer than a 3 year grant cycle
-Discussion about commitment to and value of advocacy and not just service delivery
-Speakers encouraging grantmakers to take more risk and not be so enamored with “safe, easy to measure” projects

Rebecca Arno
reported this about evaluation at a panel on social justice:

“The crowd revved up as conversation turned to the current philanthropic fascination with metrics. Naidoo fanned the flames with observations about philanthropy’s “cultural infection with business values”…but Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change reminded us that a lot of well-intentioned mediocrity passes itself off as social justice, so some kinds of metrics are needed. One of my favorite observations on the metrics front came from Eboo Patel of Interfaith Youth Core, who said that they envision their outcomes “not as Monets, but as detailed Polaroids.” Rice noted that if philanthropists would put up the kind of money needed to accomplish the appropriate strategies, she could provide metrics. But in the absence of a large enough investment, metrics can be a distraction.”

There you have it - There is a wide spectrum of opinions about evaluation - even among foundations.

Paul Connolly noted that in the “change versus charity” debate discussion a popular theme was that “too many philanthropic dollars were devoted to transactional direct service delivery and not enough were for advocacy to support transformative change.” I agree with Paul's assessment that its charity AND change that is most effectve. They are not in conflict – each works best in concert with the other.

Geoffrey Canada from Harlem Children’s Zone was the speaker at the closing plenary and I’m sure that his remarks encouraging foundations to take risks with innovative ideas was an excellent topper for the conference.

Thanks, Kris - and all the bloggers - for bringing us this great coverage.


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