Posted on Wednesday, 20th June 2012 by chris wignall
A good friend pointed out to me that yesterday’s post on things learned from this year’s Stronger Together granting process were all directed to applicants. In fact, most of the best lessons are probably better directed to the funders side of the table.
1. Specific Criteria. Thanks to the diligence of Brent Fearon at Bridgeway Foundation we have developed some clear qualifications for applicants that would seem to leave little room for uncertainty. But we still always have some questions, challenges, and exceptions to the rules. The same is true at Catalyst; we are becoming more explicit in our requirements as we learn what works well and what doesn’t.
2. Know Your Purpose. At Catalyst we have become deeply committed to funding leadership development. Our partners understand that interest and approach us with requests in that area. At Stronger Together the purpose is increasing measurable impact according to the applicant’s own core statements. At times I needed to remind myself to stay focused on that priority. Philanthropists should be as intentional in our sense of vision and calling as the charities we support are.
3. Look, Listen, and Learn. The Stronger Together process incorporates a written application, a site visit, financial analysis, and discussion among funding partners. That represents a lot of information to be processed. I am always fascinated by how much new data comes out at each subsequent stage. Too often I take a lazy approach to grantmaking because I’m really intrigued by a proposal or fond of the organization. I need to be deliberate about going deeper.
4. Shift Happens. I approach applicants with certain bias. I pay a lot of attention to leadership, creativity, and marketing; and I’m often convinced when I see excellent staff involved. I benefit from being around people who are more attentive to financials, measurement, history, and networks. My paradigm is challenged when I consider these areas, and while I may still hold my priorities higher, they give me insight to do my work better. Writing site visit reports for people who have different priorities forces me to think differently and more deeply.
5. Surprises. Every year there are organizations I’ve never heard of that become favourites. It’s one of the great things about the breadth of applications we receive. I need to stay open to things that may not be familiar or may not appear as strong at the outset and be ready to be blown away.
6. Break the Rules. As much as we have clear criteria and a well defined process, sometimes there is an opportunity that is deserving of being the rare exception. Philanthropy needs to be a process of discernment as well as of discipline. Intuition and prayer should create space for me to occasionally take a risk or advocate for something outside our usual sphere. I know I need to do this cautiously, but I should never abandon the possibility of serendipity.
7. Synergy. I can’t say that every decision we made through Stronger Together was better than what I might have made alone. I’m sure there were instances of group think and peer pressure that may prove regrettable in time. On the whole however, being among like-minded people to mutually assess, discern, and challenge one another gives me insight to be more effective in my role. I am grateful for the experience and perspective of other granting partners. My hope is that our collaboration raises the bar for all of us to give more joyously, more effectively, and with greater impact both through Stronger Together and in whatever other giving we do.