Monday, December 24, 2012

My Wish for You this Year - Merge Strong Traditions with New Vision

Our New - First - Artificial Tree

Dear Friends,

I wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a blessed New Year. This holiday letter is being posted both at
Marion Conway – Nonprofit Consultant and The Grandma Chronicles.
Every year, I take some quiet time to reflect on the year that is coming to a close and the one that is ahead.   I am so lucky to have my grown children live nearby and to be able to see my grandson several times a week. We made it through Hurricane Sandy unscathed.   I have been busier that ever with strategic planning and board retreat clients this year.  With family, nonprofit clients and summer community responsibilities I have had a very full year. 

Traditions are important to me but adapting to change has to merge with traditions.  Since my daughter and son both spend Christmas Eve with their other families, I had my family traditional Christmas Eve dinner last Sunday featuring an extensive antipasto, favorite fish dishes and special desserts. For the first time this year our tree is a small artificial tree (I love the prelit lights) instead of a large real one.  Adapting tradition and giving it a makeover is working out just fine.

For the nonprofits I work with this has been a year of adapting to the new normal.  This has meant adapting programs to new funding realities, new forms of fundraising, getting serious about social media, and new staff finding their sea legs and bringing new perspectives to organizations which -  like me –  are steeped in tradition.  There has been an increased serious interest in strategic planning and desire to discuss vision for the future.  It has been a privilege to work with nonprofits as they navigate through these changes. I have been in awe of the leaders of so many organizations I’ve worked with.  I have seen difficult situations dealt with and stronger organizations emerge – even if they don’t recognize that yet themselves.  It has been inspiring.

I definitely have to get the piano tuned.
On a personal level, it has been a year of change for me too.  My son has become engaged and we are welcoming a new family member.  She brings a new culture to our home and this morning my son called and wished us Feliz Navidad. My daughter and her family live just a mile away. My grandson is now 3 ½ and change is constant for a child this age.  He is independent, curious and full of life.  It is rejuvenating and exhausting at the same time.  It is such a joy to still be a big part of his life.

For nonprofits 2013 will beckon more change and adaptation.  Nonprofits are becoming more nimble and finding their own voice.  There is less of this “you should run more like a business” and more of “we need to establish priorities and focus on what we do best.”  I see a new energy among Boards and readiness to try new approaches.  Like me, many Boards have strong ties to traditions but we both must realize that traditions must find new ways to manifest themselves.

Each year I offer a wish for you in the new year.  This year my wish is for merging strong traditions with new vision.  Let’s use our imagination to make it happen.  Imagination is on my agenda for forging a Happy New Year with joy and courage to face what the world brings us.  And this is my wish for you.

May You Have a Blessed and Joyous Holiday,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Take Your Personal Philanthropy to a New Level... Giving with Confidence

I have just finished an excellent book which gives us a lot to think about in developing our own philanthropy plan. Giving With Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy is written by Colburn Wilbur, former CEO of the Packard Foundation with Fred Setterberg co-author of Grassroots Philanthropy and Grantmaking Basics.  Their goal is to assist donors who give $5000 to $500,000 a year and trustees of family foundations.  People and foundations who give more have access to professionals and have expertise and methodologies in place to ensure responsible giving.  This book is for the rest of us.  It is chock full of ideas –  they believe that donors who approach philanthropy with imagination, courage, energy and persistence can teach all of us how to be better givers.

Giving With Confidence reinforces some of my own philanthropy style and concerns but it also has made me think about expanding my horizons.  At the end of this article I’ll discuss my personal giving and what I plan to do to improve it.
Here are a few of Colburn and Fred’s suggestions:
Jump in first – The hardest funding is the first one.  Once someone takes the plunge others are willing to consider a project.  Ask any nonprofit executive about this and they will tell you how true this is. It takes courage to knowingly support something unproven.
The value of the undramatic gesture provides a great shout out for what is called “Your Best Investment in the Nonprofit Sector:  General Operating support”
Exceed your giving comfort level – everywhere – Add a zero to the amount you are giving. Colburn and Fred say that we can all give much more than we do and tells us to imagine ourselves as a much bigger donor than we currently are.  
Make your giving courageous, inspiring and imaginative.  Imaginative?   I’ve never thought of my giving that way but I was really inspired by the great real life examples .  
One of the most important concepts I appreciate about this book is the section on establishing values for your philanthropy.  Colburn shared the values of the Packard Foundation:  Integrity, respect for all people, belief in individual leadership, commitment to effectiveness and the capacity to think big. 
Lastly, the chapter entitled “Making Generosity Contagious” deals with such an important concept.  I have written and spoken about children and philanthropy and passing our philanthropic values onto them, but the authors suggest passing on your philanthropic values to everyone by talking about them.  I especially like the example of a woman who starts up conversations while waiting in line about what people volunteer for and give to.  She is making people think about their own giving just by talking about it.

I read though this whole book with a highlighter in hand and believe me it has a lot of yellow highlights.  Then I came to the end and there was this neat summary of “Seven Proposals for More Powerful Giving”
1     Give more to what you care about most – and give first
2     Provide general operating support over multiple years
3     Tap intermediaries to reach places you’ll never go
4     Include risky grants in your mix
5     Improve your philanthropic skills
6     Embrace creative technology
7     Create a culture of giving

What an awesome summary for truly giving with confidence.

This book has made me think about my own philanthropy.  I have been proud of my well thought out approach but now I plan to make some improvements.

Here are the tenets of what my philanthropy has been:
  •  Focused on the sectors that I think are most important and underfunded
  • Specific sectors that I don’t fund at all.
  • Systematically divided support among local, national and international causes and different standards of involvement with each.
  • I have personal contact with most of the local charities I support.  My involvement with a charity getting relatively “major” support from me must be personal.  I don’t write a big check – it’s not a big check in the larger scheme of things, but it is for me – without having a first hand connection and involvement.
  • Teaching children about philanthropy is very important to me.  I know that many people say it is best to encourage children to support their own interests whether it is the animal shelter, zoo or saving trees.  But in all honesty, I don’t do that.  Part of teaching children about philanthropy is teaching values and so when we have shared our giving it does include our philosophy and why we give to what we do.
What do I plan to change?
My philanthropy has been effective, researched and safe.  It is very focused on human needs and education in nearby Newark, NJ, in the nation and in the world.  When you go beyond my local charities you will recognize the names of most of my charities.   Effective, yes;  imaginative or courageous - hardly.  Especially because of my connection to Newark and nonprofits there, I have seen how something small can be big.  I have helped a child choose a free book at a book fair and seen their eyes and smile get wide.  I have mingled with high school students and proud parents in programs that I support and been as proud as a peacock myself.  

Now is the time for me to think imaginatively – to do the types of things that have no other chance of funding.  I have been very focused on results.  Now I want some of my philanthropy to also bring joy and I am willing to try to give “courageously.” 

The authors encourage us to give significantly and suggest that once your kids are grown is the perfect time to do this.  Well my kids are grown.  I’ll have to read that section on the joy of “adding a zero” again.  I’ve done that twice and it’s true you get joy in excess of the extra zero when you do it.

I am making a New Year’s resolution for my husband and I to develop a written set of values for our giving.  I think this is something important that we can pass on to our children.
As an older person, I have treated talking about my philanthropy more like I would my personal finances and been private about it.  But our philanthropy is something we should be proud of and willing to share.  I plan to do this too.

If you are interested in putting more thought into how you give, get a copy of Giving With Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy today.  It is full of easy, practical and inspiring ideas to better giving.