Transparency Talk

Category: "Capacity Building" (5 posts)

Tips from the Tech Sector on How Philanthropy Can Scale Impact
February 15, 2017

(Shannon Farley is the Co-Founder and Executive of Fast Forward, the accelerator for tech nonprofits. Prior to Fast Forward, she was the founding Executive Director of Spark, the world's largest network of Millennial philanthropists. Earlier in her career, Shannon co-founded The W. Haywood Burns Institute, a MacArthur Award-winning juvenile justice reform organization. Reach her on Twitter: @Shannon_Farley.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Americas Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series. 

Shannon Farley - Fast ForwardThree years ago, my co-founder Kevin Barenblat asked me why there weren’t more Khan Academies and Wikipedias. He wanted to know why more nonprofits weren’t building software to create social change at scale. At the time, my answer was that the nonprofit startup universe didn’t look anything like the tech startup landscape. Tech startups have founder meetups, online training portals, and investors hankering to go all in on the next big tech solution. Meanwhile, tech nonprofits (organizations with software or hardware at the core of their impact model) were weirdos, stuck at the juncture of the tech and nonprofit worlds. Only a few existed and they operated with little support from either sector.

Kevin and I thought this was a missed opportunity. In the last 10 years, the cost of launching a tech startup dropped from millions to thousands of dollars. With cloud-computing, digital networks, and the ubiquity of mobile, the marginal cost for return on impact decreased drastically, making the business case for tech nonprofits very compelling.

“ We’ve found that one of the biggest hindrances to innovation in the nonprofit sector is restricted funding.”

Determined to empower more nonprofits to leverage tech for social impact, Kevin and I took some cues from the tech playbook and launched Fast Forward. Our accelerator program equips tech nonprofits with seed stage funding, training, mentorship, and connections to the entrepreneur and investor community. While we take a sector agnostic approach to our portfolio, we look for organizations building tech solutions for social issues like education, healthcare, human rights, and the environment. We are able to invest in these early stage tech nonprofits thanks to philanthropic funding from philanthropists familiar with tech models like Google.org, BlackRock, Omidyar Network, and AT&T. Our approach and funding model have been strongly influenced by the tech sector in four key ways:

1. Accelerator Programs

Philanthropists have used leadership programs to train emergent social entrepreneurs for decades. Technologists apply a similar model in a program called an accelerator or incubator. We combined the best of both into the Fast Forward program. We call the Fast Forward program an accelerator because it occurs over an accelerated period of time – 13 weeks. Equal parts leadership development and startup boot camp, our curriculum is built around defining and measuring impact, board development, product design, and hiring technical talent. Our cadre of over 100 mentors for our cohort come from both worlds – nonprofit leaders and philanthropists as well as engineers and leading startup founders.

2. General Support Funding

Each tech nonprofit in our cohort is granted $25,000 in unrestricted funding. We’ve found that one of the biggest hindrances to innovation in the nonprofit sector is restricted funding. Could you ever imagine a VC telling a startup they will fund a new version of the app, but not the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and tech team required to build it? No. Sadly, that’s often the case in philanthropy. Too often, the technology for a nonprofit is thought of in terms of software licenses rather than as a staffed role integral to achieving impact. For a nonprofit to build programs and products that can impact millions, they need the same general support money considered the norm in the for-profit sector. This type of funding enables a nonprofit to hire the required tech team. As tech development becomes an essential component of impact, nonprofits need CTOs to drive this work. Foundations need to double down on general support if we want to see innovation at scale.

3. Growth Funding

Early stage funding is not a short-term partnership in venture capital. VCs typically invest a small amount in the beginning and then increase their investment when a product hits a growth inflection point. Philanthropists, however, tend to fund in terms of projects or annual timeline versus a long-term trajectory. As a result, nonprofits struggle between launch and the point at which they are ripe for mezzanine capital, larger gifts granted by foundations once a nonprofit hits an impact inflection point. The design phase is ongoing, and product launch is just the start of that journey. Donors should recognize philanthropy as the ultimate risk capital and make bets on people and teams building products with the potential to scale.

4. Timing

Philanthropy is slow paced. Tech development and product iterations progress quickly. If it takes six or more months to process a grant, the technology will have advanced beyond the proposal. At Fast Forward, follow-on funding is released as soon as the books are closed on a donation. We don’t wait, because tech doesn’t wait.

So has implementing tech methodologies helped Fast Forward and our cohorts achieve impact? Absolutely. Take our alumnus CareerVillage, a platform that crowdsources career advice from professionals for students in low-income areas. Since the Fast Forward accelerator in 2015, CareerVillage has scaled from reaching 500,000 students to over 1.5 million.

In three years, Fast Forward has accelerated 23 tech nonprofits. These organizations have impacted over 18.4 million lives and raised over $26 million in follow-on funding.

Technology has the power to achieve unprecedented impact in the social sector. Philanthropists have a lot to learn from the tech world.

--Shannon Farley

From Strength to Greater Strength: How Capacity-Building Grants Elevate Organization
July 1, 2015

(Chip Edelsberg, Ph.D., is executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States. This post was originally featured on the GrantCraft blog.)

Chip-Edelsberg_headshotIn the Foundation's ongoing efforts to identify and analyze best grantmaking strategies, we have seen grantees achieve outcomes that both strengthen organizational capacity and position organizations for future growth. By virtue of grantees' strong performance, the Foundation is gaining experience as a capacity-building funder.

Before I share examples of successes, it is helpful to understand what a capacity-building grant actually is designed to do. The term itself is somewhat general and may refer to different types of grants, depending on the context and situation of the potential grantee.

Regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Capacity building, broadly defined in a report by TCC Group, refers to "activities that strengthen nonprofits so that they can better achieve their mission." Organizations in various stages potentially can benefit from differentiated, targeted capacity-building support.

For our purposes, the Foundation sees that regardless of an organization's size, age, target audience, and goals within the arena of Jewish education, capacity-building grants can be a catalyst for improved performance and major growth.

Hillel, for example, is 101 years old. The Foundation awarded Hillel a capacity-building grant in 2014 that built on the success of its Senior Jewish Educators/Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. The 2014 grant award included funding for the development of a comprehensive business plan as well as funding for efforts that are part of Hillel's three pillars for future growth of the organization-Excellence on Campus: Supporting and Measuring Quality; Excellence in Recruiting and Developing Talent; and Excellence in Resource Development.

JJFdnlogoUnder the leadership of CEO Eric Fingerhut and with support of Hillel's Board of Directors, Hillel is taking decisive steps to grow from a $90 million per year organization to a sustainable $200 million per year organization. The Jim Joseph Foundation's recent grant is assisting Hillel to determine if this aspirational future is achievable and to enable the organization to chart a path toward desirable growth.

Moishe House, an organization much younger than Hillel, has been in existence for just nine years. Yet it already has exhibited rapid growth, and it has positively influenced the lives of tens of thousands of young Jewish adults across the United States and internationally. Moishe House is poised, potentially, to accelerate its growth and to reach ambitious milestones in part because a group of foundations joined together to help Moishe House design and implement a Strategic Growth Plan. The development of that plan was funded significantly by the Jim Joseph Foundation after a 2011 external evaluation of Moishe House demonstrated that the organization had developed an effective, affordable, and scalable approach to executing on its mission.

Smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

In both these cases, Hillel and Moishe House conducted careful strategic planning that was core to their capacity building. The Jim Joseph Foundation believes dedicating resources for this type of planning is an effective way for the Foundation to support nonprofit capacity building.

The Jim Joseph Foundation also has seen that capacity-building grants can help to advance an entire field. The clearest example is the emerging field of Israel education, which has been rapidly developed by the iCenter during the last five years. Through a series of grants, the iCenter's capacity has grown-evidenced, for example, in its remarkable network of expert educators and skilled staff who work with major organizations and educational institutions across the country to advance Israel education.

Recently, I attended a Taglit Fellows training seminar for the second cohort accepted into this exciting project generously funded by the Maimonides Fund. The iCenter, in partnership with Taglit-Birthright Israel, designed the seminar, bringing together experts in Jewish education to train and support nearly 100 Taglit Fellows (for just one cohort) who will staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips serving in a pre-trip, trip, and post-trip role to augment participants' Birthright Israel experience. A Fellow and leaders of the program shared their thoughts here, indicative of the deep impact and broad reach the iCenter now enjoys.

Obviously, we have much to learn still about capacity-building grants. Professionally, I agree with the sentiments in the article "Beyond the Veneer of Strategic Philanthropy," that "in order to reach and sustain social impact, philanthropists need to assign greater value to grantees' capacity to implement programs; encourage ongoing learning and adaptation as work unfolds; and support a foundation of organizational and operational structures, processes, and capabilities that ultimately turn vision into change on the ground."

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we are seeing that smart funding, tailored to an individual organization's life stage, capacity-building readiness, and demonstrated commitment to maximizing organizational effectiveness and field impact, creates exciting philanthropic opportunity.

-- Chip Edelsberg

Awareness of self, partners, and field essential to building organization and sector capacity
June 8, 2015

(Eliza Smith is the special projects associate for Glasspockets at Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

ElizaIn an open session held at Foundation Center in San Francisco on April 29, we explored two exciting tools to help those in the social sector get smarter about building organizational and sector capacity—through awareness. As we explored Foundation Center’s data visualization tool, Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, and the GrantCraft guide, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together, a theme emerged: leaders are at their most strategic and are empowered to build capacity when they have a strong awareness of themselves, their partners, and the field.

Awareness is pretty much the name of our game here at Foundation Center. We collect, analyze, and distribute data about philanthropy, providing various audiences—from foundations to budding nonprofits to established grants managers—a firm understanding of what’s going on in the social sector. Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 is kind of like Foundation Center’s version of Google Maps, with social sector-relevant overlays and filters. If you’ve ever wondered who is funding what and where, Foundation Maps has answers for you.

In the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been. But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness.

Recently, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew about environmental funders in the Bay Area. Her friend is moving to Oakland and wants to work with an organization that combats climate change. I’ve lived and fundraised in the Bay Area for almost a decade, but I was drawing a blank. So I used Foundation Maps  and quickly came back to my sister-in-law with a long list of environmentally engaged local grantees and funders. Maybe her friend will gravitate towards a foundation on the list, or maybe, after discovering which organizations those funders support, she’ll want to apply to a nonprofit. By the time she gets here, she’ll have a greater awareness of this subsection of Bay Area philanthropy and can wow her interviewers with her knowledge of the field. More importantly, though, once she lands a job at a Bay Area environmental organization, she can use this knowledge to fuel her projects, creating further connections in the field.

At our event, we didn’t spend the whole afternoon geeking out about data. Jen Bokoff went on to talk about the evaluation and power dynamic angles of capacity building grants with Jamaica Maxwell, an organizational effectiveness program officer at the Packard Foundation. Jamaica is well aware of the power she has, holding the proverbial purse strings. Often, she told us, grantees will hang onto her words, taking her most casual suggestions as orders. Once, she recommended a book to a grantee; the following Friday, he had bought the book and was going to read it and report back to her on the most noteworthy chapters. Jamaica wasn’t asking for a book report—she was just making an off-hand recommendation. But in the grantee-grantmaker relationship, the foundation is king… at least, that’s how it has been.

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders.

But the folks at Packard are working hard to rectify this power imbalance and create a level playing field for foundations and their beneficiaries. How? It’s all about awareness. Packard requires all program officers to cultivate a deeper understanding of the profound power they have when they’re working with grantees. Foundation leadership asks program officers to turn the tables. Why not let the grantees talk?

Jamaica said that, for her, learning to listen to her grantees was integral to her work at Packard, and not just during formal, scheduled meetings and site visits. Jamaica said that some of the best grantee–foundation relationship building happens outside the office. She suggested program officers break down power structures by joining grantees on their lunch breaks and at their staff get-togethers (yes, even happy hours!).

Listening doesn’t just help grantmakers tweak their budgets or understand evaluation results better, it improves the whole grant process. By establishing trust with grantees, grantmakers can push their beneficiaries to get more out of their grants. And grantees can feel more comfortable providing much-needed feedback to their funders. Promoting awareness—of the grantee–grantmaker dynamic and of the grantee’s needs—can increase impact sector-wide.

Which brings up an important question: What role do you think awareness plays in the philanthropy sector? For us, it’s all about smarter grantmaking and increased accountability. 

--Eliza Smith

Capacity Building Session Livestream Available for Viewing
May 19, 2015

On April 29, we held a session at our San Francisco office on Capacity Building and Foundation Maps Professional 2.0. Our presenters included Foundation Center’s own Lisa Philp, vice president for strategic philanthropy, and Jen Bokoff, director of GrantCraft. Lisa gave a demo of Foundation Maps, taking us on a cross-country road trip in philanthropy. Jen presented on GrantCraft’s most recent publication, Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together. She also spoke with Jamaica Maxwell, a program officer at the Packard Foundation about best practices in capacity building grantmaking.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the session in person or as part of our virtual audience--even if you did join us and you want to rewatch it--we’ve got you covered. We recorded and edited the session, which you can view here

Capacity Building for the Greater Good
April 13, 2015

Come on a journey to build your own strategic capacity and learn to support grantees' capacity, too. 

On Wednesday, April 29, Foundation Center vice president for strategic philanthropy Lisa Philp will demo the new Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 and show how data can inspire smarter learning and decision making.

Then director of GrantCraft at Foundation Center Jen Bokoff and David and Lucille Packard Foundation organizational effectiveness and philanthropy director Kathy Reich will discuss aspects of the recent GrantCraft publication Supporting Grantee Capacity: Strengthening Effectiveness Together to explore how foundations can be thoughtful about capacity building investments with grantees. 

Attend in-person in our San Francisco office, or via LiveStream. 

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