Today I was fortunate to listen to a terrific webinar on the “Unique Challenges of Strategy for Foundations” provided by the Phil Buchanan and Ellie Buteau of the Center for Effective Philanthropy as part of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers webinar series. Here are 5 tips I heard on the webinar that I think are helpful for any foundation – large or small, global or local, those seeking to become strategic for the first time, and those seeking to sharpen or modify their strategies.
- Don’t worry about being unique, focus on being effective. Foundations aren’t competing with each other the way McDonalds and Burger King are. If the foundation down the street or across the country is achieving some amazing results, and if those results could be either enhanced with additional investment or expanded to your community, why not join in.
- Don’t be afraid of strategy – CEP’s research has uncovered many myths related to strategy in foundations, including strategy being dispassionate, too “business oriented”, too limiting, and not allowing for course corrections. In fact, none of this is true. Funders who are most aware of the environment in which they are operating, have a vision for what they want to accomplish, and a road map to get there (plan + logic model) are the most successful and adaptable.
- Don’t stress yourself out. Start small. If strategy is a new concept for your foundation, it’s best to not go whole hog and revamp your entire foundation. If you seek to make too many changes, too fast you risk being unsuccessful. I saw this happen with one client, a prestigious and well intentioned family foundation. It sought to move from being a generalist health and human services grantmaker to a strategic grantmaker with the help of a high profile consulting firm. Several years down the road the trustees determined they were not happy with the direction, and abruptly pulled the plug — leaving staff, grantees, partners, and key initiatives hanging. It was unfortunate and could have been avoided.
- Involve your staff, board and relevant stakeholders. It is critical that they “own” the strategy. If they don’t own it, they haven’t bought into it, and they won’t be successful in implementing it. In my experience this is not an area where you should cut corners, speed up the process, or give lip service. Allow the time it takes to involve people. Surface concerns and listen to their ideas and suggestions.
- Start with your goal. Make sure everyone is clear on what you want to accomplish or the desired state you seek to achieve. Then figure out how to get from here to there. Don’t start from your current state and move incrementally.
The Center for Effective Philanthropy offers some terrific resources on foundation strategy — check them out!
© Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2014.