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Is it time for your foundation to hire…. A Consultant?

February 18th, 2015

Richard Marker

This is part one of a series on how and when to hire or outsource support for your philanthropic effort. Subsequent posts will address hiring staff for your foundation and how to choose among outsourcing services.

I am asked this question all the time: both by funders who have decided that they could use some help and by those who want entry into our field. You may be surprised since I am a philanthropy advisor myself, but most understand that I do so in a very niche area which is right for some but certainly not right for everyone. So I am asked for advice quite a lot.

Another posting in this series will address the wide variety of support service you might consider and how to decide among them. In this post, I will only address issues to review and questions to ask before selecting a philanthropy advisor, consultant, or advisory firm.

! What is their expertise?

There is no formal bar to entry in our field. [I have written elsewhere that there should be, but, as of now, there isn’t.] There are lots of folk who use the title “Philanthropy Advisor”. [I am sure that I need not add that the generalizations I will use below are just that. There are superb experts in every one of the categories.]

A. Wealth Managers who have an interest in managing the philanthropy assets as a part of their service to clients. Some have earned the Certification as Chartered Advisors in Philanthropy. That credential is fine for investment vehicles such as trusts, but don’t focus on philanthropic giving strategies. If your primary concern is the investment part of your philanthropy, this may be a very good starting point, but if you are mostly concerned with making decisions about where and how to give, very likely this group is not your best choice.
B. Family systems experts are particularly helpful to multi-generation families. Since families of means are often involved in philanthropy, it is quite logical that philanthropy questions may enter the agenda of this work. Some of these experts are really quite knowledgeable in the philanthropy component; most are not. If what you are looking for is someone with expertise in facilitating a family retreat or an intergenerational int4gration process, these folks may be just what you are looking for. But if you want to do that toward an approach to your family giving, you may want to look further.
C. Trust and Estate Attorneys are often the first address for those with wealth. They have a unique and trusted relationship, especially with the founder. Many attorneys are excellent at helping their clients establish philanthropy vehicles such as foundations, trusts, DAF’s, and more. Very few of them are as knowledgeable about the giving part.
D. Independent philanthropy advisors can mean lots of things. Some have appropriate credentials – such as the professional certification from the NYU Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, or an earned certificate from the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State. If so, you know that these consultants have core knowledge of grantmaking and philanthropy. Some have had experience working in a single foundation and thus know a lot about one foundation, but they don’t have breadth of knowledge. If their experience coincides with your needs, great; if not, maybe not so great. Some have none of these. Be cautious: While some organizations of philanthropy advisors can attest that those on their lists have had other clients, certainly one very useful datum, I would recommend that you ask about their training as well Sadly, at the risk of alienating some in our field, there are simply too many who hang up shingles with very limited proven competence.
E. Content experts can be very useful and constructive to your foundation if your foundation is committed to funding in the area of their expertise. These experts can add knowledge of grantmaking to their core knowledge, but it is not as easy to become a content expert. Of course, if your foundation has a broad mission, content experts may bring only limited assistance to your decision-making.

2. What is their business model?

As you consider selecting an individual or firm to assist your foundation, it is useful to have a clear understanding of their business model and how they charge. Or to put another way, what is their self-interest in the advice they give?

A. Retainer contracts to manage your giving or your assets. This represents the majority of philanthropy advisors. These professionals, or the firms which employ them, serve as part time program officers of your foundation for a retainer fee. Their fee might be based on a percentage of time, a percentage of assets, or a percentage of your giving budget. This arrangement is optimal if you want a wide variety of staff support – from developing rfp‘s to reviewing proposals to preparing board packages to maintaining connection with grantees, etc. but don’t need a full time staff to do so. It is important to remember that, in most cases, these individuals or firms have multiple clients and therefore are not available to you on demand. Additionally, some of the firms will have a minimum fee – sometimes a challenge for smaller foundations or funders with more limited means.
B. Wealth management firms. A number of wealth management firms offer philanthropy advisory services as a component of the range of offerings to their high net worth clients. Some of these advisors are quite excellent. However, since most of these firms wrap this service with others, not surprisingly, the larger the assets under management, the more accessibility to these advisors. And it is also important to remember that wealth managers make their money by having more money under management – while philanthropy is the commitment to giving some portion of those assets away. It creates, for some, an implicit conflict of interest. Since most people of substantial means are accustomed to dealing with those who manage their money, these folks are often the first address for philanthropy decisions. As above, the billing model is typically based on asset base.
C. Trust and Estate Attorneys It is a toss up whether people of wealth speak to their financial advisor first or to their legal advisor first. Many have a well-developed knowledge of the laws of foundations, trusts, and estates, but fewer have deep knowledge of philanthropic decision-making. As you decide if such a person is right for your situation, remember that lawyers have a defined and legally circumscribed relationship with their clients. In most cases, the “client” is not an entire family but an individual. Loyalty to that individual trumps interests of the rest of the family or a foundation board. If the client is the founder of a foundation, his or her attorney may propose a continuing paid role for him or herself to “guarantee” that interests of the client are protected even after his or her death. It is not always evident that such a role is in the best interests of the heirs or the foundation. In general it is better to be on a board or a contract professional to that board, but not both.
D. Project Specialists. [Disclosure – this is the category in which I fit.] Not every advisor wishes to be a full service consultant. Some have distinct specialties: program evaluation; systems experts; family facilitation; strategists; etc. Most of us in this category work on a project basis and charge accordingly. Some charge on an hourly or daily rate, some on a project rate. How much you have in the bank or how large your annual giving budget is typically not a primary consideration for setting fees or the scope of work. A benefit of working with a project specific professional is that many of us don’t aspire to a long-term contract. Some do. It is important, therefore to determine if their business practice is to turn initial contracts into a longer-term retainer arrangement or if they restrict themselves only to episodic work. Either is fine but it will help you put their advice into perspective.

3. Compatibility

A good consulting relationship is indeed that, a relationship. There needs to be trust, mutually agreed goals, and, yes, some of that indefinable chemistry. A few additional things to pay attention to as you choose:

A. Is this person a sycophant? – They agree with whatever you say – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Now, admittedly, some funders actually look for such people as a way to reinforce decisions they have already made. It is up to the consultant to agree to those terms. But in general, a consultant should have the experience and confidence to say “no” to you. Or at least suggest serious alternatives. The job of an outside consultant is not to see how much they can get you to like them but rather to help you solve whatever problem you are dealing with. Sometimes that requires being tough.
B. Is the consultant too committed to having your question fit into their narrowly defined methodology? There is nothing wrong with a proprietary or proven methodology. But not every square peg fits into every round hole. A consultant should be able to explain why their methodology is correct for you at this time and for this question. Or to show how it can be adapted. Or to suggest another consultant….
C. Does the consultant tell you that they can help solve your problem no matter what it is? Very very very few people can do everything well. I haven’t yet met one. One would hope a consultant would have enough self confidence and experience to tell you that they are not right for you or for a particular project and would recommend a more suitable colleague or firm.
D. Does the consultant have experience and a good record of helping to implement what they recommend – or at least help you know how to implement their recommendations? Far too many clients of ours have pointed to shelves of reports by very prestigious firms that did nothing more than gather dust. You, as the client, may choose to accept or not accept the report, but their suggestions should not fail because the consultant gave no attention to recommend how to implement those findings in your setting.

As I suggested above, there are no legal or professional barriers to entry in our field. Anyone can hang out a proverbial shingle and call him or herself a philanthropy advisor or consultant. Hopefully this post will help you choose the right consultant for you, and most important, help your funding and philanthropic efforts be both more satisfying and effective.

Guest Blog: 5 Ways to Teach Philanthropy to Your Children, by Jane Chua

February 8th, 2015

Richard Marker

We welcome guest blog posts as long as they are content appropriate and are not implicit advertisements for products or services.
reprinted from with permission of

Philanthropy is such a noble act and it is such great ideas to have your kids share your passion with you. Generosity and compassion are charitable values that we would want our children to acquire, but in this fast-paced and social-media driven world, how can we instill these to them?
Here are five steps on how to teach philanthropy to your kids:

1. Talk it out with your partner. A study had been conducted in 2009 and it found out that most couples are seeing eye-to-eye regarding charitable giving, but it would still be good if you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to this issue. Talk about the nonprofit’s goals and missions and make sure it does not violate any of your own beliefs.

2. Right from the beginning, talk to your kids about your charitable passions, including your favorite causes, as well as what you do to show your support. Once they see you all enthusiastic about it, they would just follow suit. It should not surprise you anymore if they ask starting questions or offering help.

3. Make them a part of the decision-making. Encourage your kids to take part in the decision-making process. Let them adopt their own causes and support the medium they will use to have their advocacies known.

4. Volunteer as a family. Not only is volunteering a good way to improve your kids’ self-esteem, but it is also a great opportunity to acquire new skills, share experiences, spend quality time together, establish traditions.

5. Imbibe financial literacy. As you teach your kids philanthropic values, you also get to teach them about the value of money. You have to teach them how to manage their savings, on top of establishing clear goals on how the money should be spent.

These are just few of the many ideas out there on how to teach philanthropy to your kids. Out of this experience, your kids would learn how it feels to make a difference in the world and contribute to its betterment.

The Argument for Place-Based Funding

February 1st, 2015

Richard Marker

“Give a person a fish, he/she eats for a day; teach a person to fish, s/he eats for a lifetime.” In my travels around the world, I have yet to come across a culture or tradition that doesn’t have some variation of this adage. I have heard it quoted in China, India, Scandinavia, Spain….

What better way to convey the progression from the customary entry level of philanthropy, compassion, to the next level, that of strategy. Almost every funder goes through these stages and learns, or at least intuits, that there can be a more efficient method with better long term outcomes than that of responding emotionally to an immediate plea for support. Learning how and when to say “no”, how and when to say “yes”, and doing so in a planful proactive way are the basic outlines of what has become known as “strategic grantmaking.”

Strategic grantmaking is most effective in solving a specific problem or choosing among a discreet and finite number of causes or organizations. It is the necessary stage 2 of grantmaking.

To return to our metaphor: it assumes all sort of things: that one lives near a place to fish; that the fish are not mercury laden; that there are still fish in the river; that there are enough fish for all… I am sure colleagues have developed even longer lists of the limits of the fishing metaphor as the solution to larger problems. All of these symbolize the third stage of grantmaking: addressing systemic issues and not just presenting ones. While one can choose the highest quality intervention of those which are presented [e.g., which fishing method is most effective; what time of day is best to fish; what bait catches the most fish, etc.] but if none addresses underlying issues of polluted streams or overfished oceans, your funding/fishing choice, even if it is the best, simply replicates the systemic conditions for continuing hunger.

It is no wonder, then, that so many in our field argue for more overriding accountability for funding. It has become quite common for many newer funders and foundations to go immediately to the “systemic” – articulating that the purpose of their funding is to address underlying causes and not just the symptoms, eradicating and not just treating diseases, bridging sectors, taking data seriously but willing to take big risks…

This point of view has a lot to commend it. After all, millions upon millions of dollars have been spent over many years to address social inequity, environmental degradation, educational inadequacy, and in far too many instances there is little to show for it. Something must surely have been missing. Maybe funders have simply been asking the wrong questions or have had too much faith in legacy agencies and organizations.

Many legacy organizations have yet to get this, and still argue that their’s is only a problem of messaging. And of course, in fairness, it is true that many of them have done and continue to do wonderful things, often with one hand tied behind their resource-poor back. But it is also true that too many are stuck in old methodologies or ways of thinking, and confuse organizational survival with systems thinking. No wonder that “innovation”, “social entrepreneurship”, “impact” all capture funders’ imaginations.

As appealing as these systemic approaches may be, they can overlook real immediate needs or local organization that don’t aspire to change the world. One example: There is simply no doubt that adequate SNAP funding will feed far more people more efficiently than volunteer soup kitchens. We should all be advocating for more humane and responsible public funding. But I am not so naïve to think that we are anywhere close to being able to close all of the pantries and therefore they too need ongoing support.

Or another example: on a comparative basis, very few local community theatre companies or operas or symphonies can match the quality of the famous destination arts companies in our biggest cities. But it doesn’t render them irrelevant or unworthy of support. If one were to give financial backing only to the ones meeting the highest competitive rankings, most of the regional and local arts and cultural enterprises would close, to the detriment of the quality of life in communities everywhere.

Or another: I am quite sure that the vast majority of after school programs are not transformative. Many are undoubtedly pedestrian. But that doesn’t imply that they are not worthy of support, especially at times of unconscionable cutbacks at public schools all over the country.

Now these examples are not an endorsement of mediocrity. Nor are they suggestions that funders should not be concerned with performance and quality. Rather they affirm that, on the ground, there are needs on the local level, the quality of which need not rise to the level of “state of the art.” Indeed local funders are often best suited to determine what needs are indispensable, the absence of which could cause real harm to a community. A national funder may not have the boots on the ground to be able to determine that, especially if they are making non-geographically based competitive grants. That same national funder may be more committed to developing cutting edge responses to a cause or need than solving local problems.

Local communities cannot and should not have to wait for the metrics to wend their way through the funding and political systems to receive services. Commitments to local communities are important all along the way.

Now, let me repeat: this is not an argument for mediocrity. Funders can and should aid and support capacity building, technical assistance, training, access to emerging knowledge of best practice, advocacy, convening, and every other way to make local organizations reach their own optimal potential. All I am suggesting is that that optimal potential need not be, in every case, state of the art – the circumstances, the resources, the demographics, etc. may make that impossible.

There is a place for place-based funders with passionate commitment to their own communities. While not right for all funders, those who have this commitment should not be made to feel that their philanthropy is any less valid or meritorious than those committed to transformative systemic change. I suspect that, just as many who start with compassion funding on the very local level eventually work their way to becoming systemic change agents, similarly, many who start committed to radical and systemic change may well learn that support on the ground matters as well.

We need both.

Talent? Leadership? Really, it is all about Culture

January 26th, 2015

Richard Marker

Did you know that in the philanthropy and non-profit world we have no followers, only leaders? How else can one explain that every community, every organization, every affinity group, and who knows how many others recruit actively for their leadership training/development programs?

Given all of these leadership programs, it makes one wonder whom they are leading? And how many of these leaders were actually elected as leaders by the very people they are supposed to lead? Or, perhaps, how many have been designated as “leaders” because a program or organization would like them to become leaders and successors to current leaders – some day? How many of those volunteers were designated for these programs, not because of their demonstrated leadership assets but because they have the financial assets to make them desirable future board members? And how many of the professional directed programs always seem to select the very same people who were already selected and trained and funded by other organizations and programs?

The most striking evidence that too many of these programs are either flawed, or at least mislabeled, is the hue and cry about the current and future leadership vacuum in the entire philanthropy and non-profit sector.

But can it be true that there is a paucity of capable leaders in an entire sector? Can it really be that all of these well funded programs, national and local, are inadequate? And is it credible that, for all the many thousands of highly motivated, intelligent, capable employees, only a tiny few have demonstrated the talent for “leadership”? Isn’t it possible, indeed quite likely, that something else is going on. Let’s see….

1. Traditionally, the non-profit sector has trained its professionals for careers in the sector, on the assumption that one will spend ones professional time in the sector and work ones way up a career ladder. However, that bears scant relationship to the way talented people’s work life works these days. Once upon a time, people entered a field and stayed. Today people go in and out of sectors – a non-profit professional one year, a private sector one the next, a volunteer leader along the way. Any program built on old assumptions of sector boundaries is bound to come up short. Frankly, I think this inter-sector commuting is to be encouraged and is likely to strengthen both the for- and not-for-profit sectors.

2. For that matter, any organization which treats its staff as if they owe long term fealty 24/7 and assumes that those very staff people intend to remain for 10, 15, 20 years, is delusional. [Ok, maybe not delusional, just out of date.] Most workers – and their supervisors – are always contemplating their next stop, and they will be thinking that way even if an employer mandates loyalty. Indeed such overt expectations of loyalty probably hasten turnover, and most assuredly will guarantee that employees will try to keep their career ambitions secret and under wraps. I firmly believe that supervisors and executives who openly acknowledge transiency will find their staff more likely to remain longer, will be more open about how to frame job descriptions in a more productive way, and are likely to lead to greater professional collaborations. [When I was an executive/supervisor/ceo, I would offer to help everyone who reported to me to update his or her resume every year. Everyone knew that I wasn’t trying to give a subversive message to leave, so colleagues were always very straight. Amazing what I learned, and how easy it was to adjust job assignments to meet emerging and evolving professional interests!]

3. Sadly, one still hears old-fashioned canards that those in the non-profit world don’t work as hard as those in the for-profit sector, or that if they were really talented, they would be in more financially remunerative fields. Worse, there are still those who assume that a non-profit career should be the equivalent of a vow of poverty. “Why are you asking for a more competitive salary, or fringes? You chose to work in the sector; you shouldn’t expect more.” It is simply counterproductive and wrong. So let’s be clear: Only boards and funders of non-profits can make sure that these destructive myths are laid to rest and that staff are properly recognized and compensated.

4. The flip side is another canard, just as pernicious – that too many in this sector are getting rich, with bloated overhead and nothing to show for it. They cite the periodic “revelations” of $million non-profit salaries implying that non-profit leaders are abusing charitable dollars if they receive such munificence. Why, some ask, support a sector which is so frivolous with hard earned contributions? As I have previously written and lectured in numerous places, I feel that this is a fake issue, reinforced by the information gathered by 990’s [he American tax return for non-profits] that only asks for info on the 5 highest paid employees. Frankly, I care more about the lowest paid than the highest paid. If a non-profit is underpaying its employees or denying them appropriate benefits, that is much worse than overpaying a few senior executives. As suggested in #3 above, only funders and boards can insist that this change.

5. Another area which has garnered a good deal of attention lately is investing in talent. [e.g., Talent Philanthropy] Advocates argue, correctly, that the non-profit world is shortsighted in seeing training and professional development as a luxury, or a special benefit only for the highest achievers. These advocates demonstrate that underinvesting in staff abbreviates tenure, leads to greater dissatisfaction, and incrementally lowers performance. However, there has been a missing ingredient in the arguments of most of these advocates Most have not addressed the structural underpinning of why this is so hard to implement consistently over time and throughout the sector: if staff training, conference attendance, etc. are viewed as an independent expense line, those lines are the most vulnerable at budget times. I have always argued [and, I am proud to say, implemented when I was still a senior executive in the field] that staff training should be a non-negotiable part of the benefits package of every employee, in much the same way as health, retirement, vacation, etc. should be. Unless such a commitment is built into the way in which professional employees are paid, and the budget is structured accordingly, this will constantly be an uphill battle at budget time and will require constant advocacy with all too sporadic successes.

6. Which brings me to “Ageism”. Typically, “ageism” that refers to prejudice against those more senior. There isn’t much new I can add to this part of the equation [although I can personally attest that it exists.] But, less addressed, and more complicated, is the more subtle ageism toward younger folks.

NextGen – How, you ask, can that be true when there is a surfeit of programs targeting “NextGen’s”? Aren’t they the most favored and fought over cohort? Perhaps, but I don’t buy it. How? I have said many times over the past few years that I really don’t like the phrase NextGen. One only hears it in the non-profit sphere. Imagine the NYSE telling Mark Zuckerberg that he is a NextGen and will simply have to wait until he is old enough to have an IPO for Facebook. Of course they will provide a mentor and a 6-month training program of seminars and peer learning experiences in preparation, after which the established c-suite leaders would pass judgment on his eventual suitability to join them.

Yes, this takes this to absurdity, but in fact I once spoke to the annual meeting of the top leadership of a major non-profit at which their outstanding “young leader” was honored. That “young leader” was a 50-year-old dot-com multimillionaire retiree!

All of this underscores an irony. If we are being honest, it should more accurately be ThisGen. Most of the ways in which we communicate, a great deal of the vocabulary we use to describe our daily activities, the technology we use every moment of the day, are all informed by a younger generation. The for-profit sector does everything possible to empower and include them. In the non-profit sphere they are only NEXT-gen. It is time to stop the self-defeating patronizing of this talent and make sure that there are fully empowered voting spaces at the grown-up tables.

In the workplace and on volunteer boards, there is an emergent problematic dynamic and confrontation. On the one hand, healthy and energetic people with experience and unfinished ambition are often discounted for no other reason than their age. Younger people, impatiently, don’t want to wait around for them to leave, so they leave. The challenge for all sectors, especially the volunteer driven one, is how to synergize the attribute of “judgment” which often does accrue with time, and the attribute of “knowledge”, increasingly the purview of those who are younger Those few organizations and foundations that have figured this out are setting admirable standards for all.

7. I believe that everyone who works at the professional level in the non-profit world should sit on the board of an organization other than the one that pays his or her salary. It doesn’t matter how big, what its mission is, or how large the board. Of course, it is highly unlikely that the Metropolitan Museum is going to be interested in a second year non-profit program professional, but there might be a small community based group which would be thrilled to take advantage of the energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm of such a person. And it is of mutual benefit: the professional becomes a much better professional, with much more perspective, after wearing a volunteer hat and an outstanding volunteer when he or she commutes out of the non-profit sector. Want to influence a board? Think like one and model that you understand what it means. Now, I know that many community foundations and junior leagues have observer-ship mentored programs. That is fine, but that isn’t what I am talking about: I mean actually being on a board, making decisions on budget, policy, strategy, and even personnel. Talk about real leadership development…

Underlying all of this is “organizational culture”. All of the suggestions in 1-7 above are unlikely to be very effective if the organizational culture does not endorse or support them. An organization which talks better than it walks, an organization which espouses empowerment but doesn’t empower, an organization that bemoans a dearth of leadership but in fact belittles and patronizes its professionals by regularly hiring outsiders for leadership positions, an organization that still thinks in hierarchical terms when flat organizations are the norm, an organization that wonders why creativity is always somewhere else but squelches any new idea with endless sign offs and consensus processes, an organization that “demands” 24/7 but guarantees nothing in return, an organization which treats staff as in-service to volunteer leadership as opposed to being their professional partners… Do you recognize any of these? All of the talk about talent and leadership is for naught if an organization doesn’t have a culture that allows for growth, risk, reach, and ambition. None of this is new. All of these ideas have been talked about and written about, and implemented…in some places. Evidence of how elusive these goals and how rare their achievement are, though, are the continuing emergence of “new” leadership and talent training programs.

Pogo’s old bon mot still applies: “we have met the enemy and it is us.” Organizational transition and leadership development needn’t be elusive aspirations. The methods of cultivating and training are within the reach of most organizations, often with only small but meaningful cultural adaptations.

On their own, very few non-profit organizations can make these changes – and make them stick. Only boards and funders can ensure that they do.

Interest in Conflict of Interest: Why now? Why it matters? What are Best Practices?

January 8th, 2015

Richard Marker

For some reason, topics of interest to philanthropy folk seem to arise in bunches. How else to explain the surge of discussions about COI on social networks, at conferences, on boards on which I sit, and among clients?

To remind readers: there is a difference between the legal category called “self-dealing” and “conflict of interest”. Since I am not an attorney, I won’t address matters of “self – dealing” which are quite clearly proscribed by the law and are never allowed. A “conflict of interest” in the non-profit sphere is usually not a matter of law but rather arises when there is some overlapping or intersecting roles that a trustee or staff member has which may call into question that person’s decision making allegiance. Of course, every private sector and non-profit organization should have such a statement, require periodic [at least annual] sign-off by boards and staff, and minute the determinations of which conflicts matter.

One would hope that these definitions and recommended actions are not new or news. Indeed, I would even argue that one should never sit on the board of an organization that does not have a COI procedure. But if this is such an established ground rule, why the surge of interest among grantmaking foundations at this time?

1. Increased accountability and transparency. A shout-out to colleagues at NCRP and GEO, inter alia, for raising the expectations that foundations behave well. If there is a question of the integrity of a foundation, even if unintended, it can make a grantee, potential or actual, quite reticent to share information or feedback. This really matters: When I have met with funders in Eastern Europe or in developing countries, they report that the absence of a concept or culture of “conflict of interest” or transparency has limited their influence and made the larger society dubious about their genuine commitment to using philanthropy to build a civil society. Even in the United States, a country with highly developed practices, there is an unfortunate cynicism about the intentions and self-interests of funders.
2. The laws have changed. A number of states have updated their laws related to charity and to align them more closely to those applicable to the for profit sector. One of those changes has been some tightening of the “COI” rules. For example, in New York State, there is a distinction between COI where there might be financial interest, and COI where there might be a role conflict. Any non-profit or private foundation in New York State should have updated its written policies by now. Those in other states may or may not be legally obligated to do so, but best practices would suggest the wisdom in updating theirs as well.
3. Second generation family funders and business school trained philanthropists look at things with a demand for more clarity and professionalism. They know, either intuitively or by training, that foundation money may be theirs to control and allocate, but it isn’t theirs. The multiple roles of funder, investor, heir [in some cases], and change agent make many of them sensitive to the competing nature of these roles.

There are many sample COI statements available for download and modeling. I urge you you to check them out; many may be immediately applicable in your situation. Most of them focus on matters of financial conflicts which don’t rise to the level of self dealing. Or they answer the question of related business and family members. Most of the statements are pretty clear but if you are a funder with a particular [non-legal] question in your situation, I would be happy to help think it through with you.

In my experience, though, the area that gives funders the greatest pause, and is often the most controversial, is the question of interlocking directorates. Is it ever acceptable to be a trustee of a grantmaking entity and at the same time to be a trustee of a current or potential grantee? If yes, what parameters should apply? Do different situations call for different responses? Here are the variety of approaches I have seen:

Option 1: No trustee of a foundation/grantmaking entity may sit on the board of a current grantee organization.
Option 2.: No trustee of a foundation/grantmaking organization may sit on the board of a grantee organization unless that organization has already been receiving funding for x years.
Option 3: Any trustee must make clear that he or she sits in an interlocking directorate role and excuse/recuse him/herself from any decision-making role. The foundation/grantmaking organization should minute their acknowledgement of this COI.
Option 4: Trustees of grantmaking entities are encouraged to sit on the boards of long-term grantee organizations and to play an active role in making sure that the grantmaking entity is fully aware of the developments in those grantee organizations.

What, you legitimately ask? How can all of these be legitimate options; aren’t they self-contradictory?

Indeed they might be. But circumstances may dictate different legitimate foundation solutions.

Consider a few situations, a non-exhaustive list:

Foundation A has an open rfp process with guidelines permitting applications from anywhere. They typically end up giving grants to only 10% of eligible applicants.
Foundation B only does place-based funding in the small community where it is located and is known for supporting all local cultural organizations on an annual basis.
Foundation C only uses outside reader/consultants and the board simply approves the grants in toto.
Foundation D has a competitive rfp process but its guidelines are quite specific about eligibility.
Foundation E is a major funder in a particular field of service, and funds extensively with no geographic limitations. Its board includes other Funders in this field. This foundation does not issue an rfp, and only invites proposals.

Best practice would call for very different COI practices. It is my recommendation that the COI guidelines should reflect differing grantmaking policies:

I. For any Foundation which does competitive grantmaking, it is important that there be as much distance as possible between grantees and decision makers.

In a situation like A, best practice would suggest that there be no interlocking directorates since the grants are competitive and it would be quite hard to show the world that the board has acted without prejudice if a grantee and the foundation were to share a trustee.
If it is a situation like D and E, those on the board are probably on the board because of their interest in the field of service. It would be a shame and counterproductive to preclude their board involvement because of their interest, and there is no pretense of an objective competitive process, so a formalized recusal policy should suffice. However, in this case, recusal should include not only final decision-making but any participation in the processes involving grantees leading up to decisions as well. These two often comprise the most nuanced challenges for foundation practice.

For C, assuming that the decision making process is made clear to all stakeholders, simple recusal should suffice for the board and staff, but it is important there also be a formal record of acknowledgement of any possible conflicts among the readers/consultants.

II. In a situation where there is a minimal or no ongoing competitive process, the appearance of conflict is largely removed and the policy can be more open.

The situation of Foundation B is not at all unusual. Many argue that Option 4 above should apply – for several reasons: in a small community, it would be quite counterproductive to require the top communal leadership to choose between roles. Since the Foundation’s annual funding of recipient groups is not really a competitive concern, the interlocking roles typically raise no ostensible issues of favoritism. Similarly, if a foundation often serves as a key convener for a field or communal planning, informed trustees play an important non-fiscal role. To preclude their involvement would not serve the larger mission of the foundation or indeed of the fields/communities to which they are committed.

There are many emerging challenges to quality grantmaking and exercising responsible communal citizenship. Most elemental among them is a thoughtful COI policy and practice. Hopefully these brief guidelines will help the growing number of foundations committed to develop your own best practice.

Hey, Oklahoma. I Wore a Hoodie Today

January 5th, 2015

Richard Marker

And yesterday, and the day before that. And I plan to wear one tomorrow.

Those who know me are probably surprised to hear that. I am better known as the “bow tie guy” and for my bespoke attire. That is because most of you don’t see me walk the single block to the gym every morning. For almost all of the year, the sun isn’t even close to rising when I make that short walk.

My choice of exercise attire is strictly utilitarian. When it is raining or snowing or cold, a hoodie is the most efficient thing to wear – especially for someone like me whose hairline has receded into infinity. I doubt that any of the fellow early arrivals at the gym pay one bit of attention to my hoodie, or anything else I wear. Those who exercise at the first moments after the gym opens are either insomniacs or Triple A-Type personalities or both. There isn’t a lot of conversation in the pre-opening waiting-line, and very little socializing that I observe once the gym opens. [I am no different.] It seems that hoodies are pretty typical, but I would be shocked if anyone paid the slightest heed.

Once, though, I had an experience that gave me pause – but only after it was over. As I was hoofing it down the same block I walk every morning, a police car sped toward where I was and stopped suddenly. They turned on a bright light for a few seconds. I actually paid no attention and kept walking. The patrol car turned its light off and drove away.

It was only when I got to the gym that I realized what had just happened. I was a male walking quickly down the street in a pre-dawn hour – wearing a hoodie – in a very upscale neighborhood of Manhattan. I retrospectively suspect that had I been Black or Hispanic, they might not have been so quick to drive away. They might have asked what that cylindrical object in my hand was [a rolled up magazine]. They might have challenged why I was in such haste. [It was a bit chilly.] They might have asked what I was doing there in the first place. [You already know the answer to that.]

They didn’t. I got the benefit of the doubt. Was it because I am a not-so-young Caucasian? I’ll never know. But I have little doubt, now, that wearing a hoodie by itself was perceived to be a suspicious sign.

What is significant, I realize, is that when the police came speeding up, it didn’t even occur to me that they might be looking at me. I didn’t even think it necessary to stop and look. Given everything we have learned about the streets of small towns in Missouri or of the borough of Staten Island, I very much doubt that one of a different race would have been so oblivious, in much the same way that I very much doubt that the police would simply have driven off had I been of a different race.

Twenty-some years ago, when still living in Chicago, the organization I headed did some collaborative work with a division of the Chicago Community Trust to build understanding and to reduce inter-group and inter-racial tension among college students. Our approach was that there was nothing to be gained by the typical competition to prove who suffered the most. Was slavery worse than the Holocaust? Did the Armenian genocide trump Native American suffering? Was there even a metric which could declare a winner?!!! Our alternative approach was to help articulate vulnerabilities – not in a competitive way but in a way that allowed others to empathize.

One group of participants, university students from all over Chicago-land consistently brought us up short in every group discussion. Every single Black male shared a similar story. They said, that whenever they walk down the street, anywhere and at anytime, people cross the street or walk very quickly or physically reflect nervousness. Just by being a young black male you instill suspicion and fear. What a way to live and to grow up! When I tested this with non-participants of every age, they all related. It rang true. Sadly, there is ample evidence, no matter how one responded to recent grand jury hearings, that 25 years later, the reality described by these young African American males is still true throughout the USA. [The unconscionable response of some of the NYC police to our Mayor reflects either racism or inexcusable blindness to this reality. In either case, the mayor is quite correct to advocate re-training.]

It would be easy to dismiss the attempt by some in Oklahoma to outlaw the wearing of hoodies as a silly overreach by a misguided few. But it is precisely at such moments when we need to draw the line. Institutionalizing what is essentially a bizarre and barely disguised racism needs to be repudiated. Emphatically. For when the small things get accepted, it makes the next steps – voter restrictions, educational discrimination, etc. that much easier to accept.

As the cold weather approaches, I had been thinking about getting a warmer down type jacket to wear to the gym in the winter. Until this weekend, I had been undecided on the style of which there are many. After this weekend, there is no longer any uncertainty. I will buy a hoodie.

New Year’s Resolutions – Theories of change and a surprising philanthropy lesson

December 30th, 2014

Richard Marker

You would think I would have figured this out before now. After all, social change through philanthropy is the underpinning of all that I speak about all over the world, and consult on to foundations and philanthropists of all sorts. Social change – you know, the kind of change we can and should make. And, yet, truth be told, I don’t have a very enviable record regarding my own New Year’s Resolutions. [I suspect that my record is not below average, but that, as we know, is no excuse.] Amazing how one can learn from my own field if one only pays attention. So consider this post an applied learning of a key concept in philanthropic practice.

Let’s take a couple of personal examples – I am pretty sure that lots of folks can relate to the first, the other is more career specific with a lot of implications for foundations and non profit organizations.

Example #1: I need to lose 10-15 pounds. It isn’t only vanity, but my specifics are incidental to this post. [NB: This is not a plea for dieticians, trainers, or others to contact me with hints, suggestions, offers to help, etc. Please heed.]

I have been aware of my excess poundage for a few years and I have done all sorts of things to redress this: I go to the gym almost every day, had a trainer twice a week for a few years, am pretty careful with my diet, etc. In the current lingo of accountability, my metrics of outputs are quite respectable, some might even say impressive. There is only one problem: for all of these active interventions, my weight has not gone down. I haven’t achieved the desired impact. In other words, the one key metric that really counts has been a failure.

Aha! I now see that I have been missing a key component of how to address my challenge. I haven’t had a theory of change. I have transgressed a classic organizational myopia: Lots of constructive activities that never accomplished the impact they were supposed to. To accomplish what I need to accomplish vis a vis my weight in 2015 will require a new systemic approach. It will require a ‘deep dive’ [jargon!]. It may turn out that much of what I have been doing is ineffective, or of only marginal benefit, or that I am missing the one thing which makes all of these activities work or I am doing them at the wrong times…. Trying to accomplish my valid goal without being able to demonstrate that the activities actually will get me there is exactly what we advise fellow funders to discourage, and their grantees to avoid.

This first example was easy to articulate since there is a clear and definable desired impact. And there is plenty of evidence-based data to apply to a theory of change to achieve the bottom line. Check with me next summer to see how well I have done with this theory of change approach to this resolution.

Example # 2 is trickier:

There is another New Year’s Resolution of personal significance. But in this case there is ambiguity about the ultimate desired impact, so a theory of change to get there is proving elusive. To wit:

A wonderful esteemed colleague intuited that the two of us were at similar points in our careers. Both of us have widely recognized expertise which we apply with 2 competencies: public speaking and consulting. [Our expertise is not the same: in my case, it is philanthropy strategy for funders, in his, c-suite issues for senior executives]. Both of us have had the additional honor of serving in very public volunteer elected international leadership roles. And both of us are at the point of our careers where we are contemplating what is the most appropriate emphasis for our remaining productive professional years. It has left each of us with a degree of angst and has led to some interesting personal challenges.

In using each other as sounding boards, we identified several options to focus on now. These are the choices:

[Before reading: Forgive my simplifying these complex choices, each of which is filled with emotional baggage and personal implications for us and involve other people as well. The purpose of this post, of course, is not to ask for your assistance in thinking through a personal agenda but to provide a real life metaphor of the challenges many grantees and foundations struggle with. As with example #1, please heed.]

a. Make as much money over the next few years as possible so that our retirements will be financially stress free. To do so, assertively seek and take as many contracts as possible even if we know ahead of time that they won’t all be gratifying, and perhaps not necessarily be in our sweet spot of proven expertise.
The counterpoint: If one goes this route, are we temperamentally suited to learn the new skills and expend the necessary energies to focus on moneymaking as the primary life goal? Is the goal of long-term financial security sufficient impact to bypass short-term expenditures of hard earned unique competencies and satisfaction?
b. Utilize our very rare privilege as thought leaders to help shape and transform our respective fields, knowing that doing so probably won’t be as financially beneficial but may have a longer-term impact on more people.
Counterpoint: Surely this has great appeal, especially when one is at the stage of one’s professional life when a regular predictable income is no longer required to pay bills. However, at the end of the day, one cannot simply self-anoint as a “thought leader.” The world, or at least a part of it, views you as someone to listen to and take seriously, or they don’t. Moreover, even if one is a “thought leader” today, there is nothing that guarantees that one will be tomorrow’s opinion shaper.
c. Only do those talks and contracts we know will be satisfying, and begin to cultivate other involvements, paid or volunteer, which will grow in personal import over time as we wind down our respective careers and move into long and inspired retirement.
Counterpoint: This is the choice requiring the least up-front investment of time, energy, and money but, pulling back from pro-active professional involvement may prove self-fulfilling and hasten the post employment years.

The problem: It is hard to develop an effective a theory of change if one cannot decide on what the desired impact should be. For me and my friend, New Year’s Resolutions without clear impact measures will surely lead to a year of scattershot and serendipity. It could turn out great, but might leave us at the same juncture one year hence. I know for me, and I think for my colleague as well, it really matters. I know that I love all of the things I do professionally and, if it were up to me, would prefer to do more, not less. [Hint: option “c” isn’t my favorite.] The reality, though, is that there are competing inclinations at play, each of which is logical, demonstrable, and persuasive, and in none of the cases do we fully control our own destiny. The challenge is how to develop that effective theory of change New Year’s resolution if these competing inclinations are still in play.

It matters. Once one recognizes that something is ready for attention, that implies change – even if the ultimate decision is to do things in much the same way as before. And once one is committed to change, one cannot not be passive. In the past, my approach might simply have been to write a few more blog posts, or send more professional updates, or attend a couple more conferences. Now that I really understand what these annual Resolutions should be about, I realize that those have only been outputs – it is the impact that matters, and that will require a systemic approach.

In my case, when my Resolution is figuratively endorsed two days hence, it will be imbued with a consciousness of my underlying theory of change. It should be an interesting year.

I hope your personal theories of change, and their creative implementations, help make this an especially gratifying year for you in all of your personal and professional aspirations. All the best in the New Year.

Giving and Gifting – An Annual Seasonal Greeting

December 19th, 2014

Richard Marker

Several years ago, I wrote this brief commentary on Giving. Each year, some of you remind me to re-post it. Here it is:

Gifting focuses on the object; giving is about the subject.

Gifting answers the question how much we give; giving shows how much we care.

Gifting satisfies our lists; giving satisfies our life.

Gifting fulfils our responsibility; giving expands our sensibilities;

Charitable gifting rewards our bottom line; philanthropic giving celebrates our highest values.

Gifting changes the mood; giving changes the world.

Gifting expresses our generosity; giving expresses our love.

May the holiday season teach us that the best gift of all is truly giving of oneself. It is the gift that gives back, and brings joy to both the giver and the recipient.

May the New Year be one of blessings, good health, and prosperity… and may the world become a better place by our example and our generosity of spirit.

Mandatory Annuity Distributions and Corporate Social Responsibility

October 19th, 2014

Richard Marker

How did that happen? It sort of sneaked up on me but a manager of some of our retirement funds was unequivocal that I am not very far away from having to take distributions from those funds. One may try to deny the inevitability of getting older, but the IRS only looks at your birthdate.

What I learned was that I have done a respectable job of planning and saving for the post-work years – which I hope are still many years away, but I haven’t done such a good job at doing so in the most tax advantaged way. [Before I continue – if you are a financial planner, wealth advisor, or fund raiser, please do not contact me. The point of this post, to be made below, is about something else altogether.] I confess that I hadn’t given much thought to the way in which annuities and other accumulation vehicles are taxed – or why.

Indeed, in looking at the way different vehicles are taxed, it became pretty clear that there is no inherent public policy benefit which accompanies the various instruments yet there are real tax differences. The only logical explanation is that certain approaches are beneficiaries of effective lobbying efforts; they may or may not be in the best interests of either retirees or of the society writ large.

As long time readers of these posts know, I am a believer in taxes. Frankly I think that most of those who can afford to pay taxes pay too little, and are willing to pay more. We should expect more and pay for more from our government. Health, education, retirement, etc. shouldn’t be dependent on the vagaries of one’s employment but rather built into the fabric of a functioning society. These are communal values which should be made manifest by our support for the systems that sustain them, i.e., taxes.

Yet, it is not surprising that faced with the option of additional income into our pocket, it is tempting and probably prudent to make significant changes in our investment allocations. In doing so, I and we would only be following the law, and not doing so would make us seem like saps, squandering what can be rightfully ours. As one who has, in principle, done our own taxes every year, that is no different than what I have done each year – utilizing all legal and available legal deductions and reductions. [I am proud to say that IRS auditors have agreed.]

What upset me, though, in contemplating the choices before us now, is that our current choices would be based exclusively on taxes. That hasn’t been the case in the past. We didn’t buy our co-op primarily because of tax advantages; we don’t make charitable gifts because of tax deductions; we don’t go to doctors because of health care deductions. Those tax implications are benefits of other more primary and essential decisions we have made and are consistent with some clear public policy benefit. But if we change our investment approaches now it wouldn’t be because of any value in our lives other than our tax bill. Something to think about.

Which brings me to what this post is really about: Corporate taxes and corporate social responsibility.

It is no secret that many corporate entities make major strategic decisions based on taxes. One would have to have had one’s head deep in the sand for months to have missed some highly visible and flagrant recent examples. Some companies have “merged” in order to move their corporate headquarters to a more tax friendly country. Some have incorporated in states or cities or countries with more favorable tax rates. Some have negotiated with states or local government for tax relief – only to move elsewhere when those exemptions expired.

If one listens to their arguments, they suggest that US taxes are too high. That would be credible if they actually paid those taxes. But every study of what many corporations actually pay shows that there is very little correlation between what the tax rate is and what is actually paid.

Of course, they argue, they are only following the laws, only taking deductions they are permitted to take. That may be true but it is, at best, disingenuous. After all, these corporations pay very, very, very, big bucks to lobby for favorable tax laws. Is it any surprise that some have a balance sheet showing profits of $billions, sufficient to pay dividends and huge salaries, but, miraculously, they have no taxable income? That doesn’t just happen, and it certainly isn’t good public policy. Why, I wonder, should I, through my taxes, be subsidizing these $multi-billion companies?

Many of these same companies pride themselves on their generosity. They have employee engagement programs, corporate matching of charitable gifts, sponsorships, have a corporate foundation, and many other worthy and well meaning efforts. All of this is called “corporate social responsibility.” These efforts add up to an average of about 1% of their profits.

I have a proposal to corporations. Do you want to be known for your corporate citizenship? Pay your taxes at the same rate as your employees. My guess is that would far exceed the amount now allocated for CSR.

Just imagine how much would be available to solve social problems: SNAP funding and unemployment benefits for the long-time unemployed could be restored. Pell Grants could be readjusted. Social welfare organizations could get paid in a timely manner. Bridges and railroad tracks could be repaired. Who knows what else?

Sure, the voluntary efforts currently known as corporate social responsibility are very welcome. Keep it up. But they pale in comparison to what social good could be accomplished if these same companies paid their fair share – as all of us are expected to do.

No one likes paying taxes, including me. But all of us take advantage of what our taxes provide, including corporations. None of us should be exempt from our communal social responsibilities. None.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. Maybe It’s the Implementation.

September 19th, 2014

Richard Marker

You’ve tried and you’ve tried and you’ve tried and you’ve tried but you can’t get no… OK – enough Stones. The dilemma remains, though. The organizational changes so carefully and artfully prescribed in a tome by an outside consultant, or developed after months of meetings by a board/staff leadership task force sit gathering dust on shelves? Or perhaps they are in long ignored PowerPoint files?

How is it that the brilliantly conceived Venn diagram, identifying the ideal sweet spot for your organization or foundation, seems to leave you more in the margins than in the center? How is it that the staff/board/clients/stakeholders don’t get it? Why is it that people mouth the words, but their actions belie them?

Of course, there are many possible explanations [see post of 30 January 2014; consider this an addendum]. The odds are pretty high, though, that the missing ingredient in your strategy plan is “implementation.” What changes will make it work, make it stick, make it believable, make it convincing?

About a quarter of a century ago, I was approached to join one of the major consulting firms. We came close, but our discussions fell apart on the issue of implementation. My position, having been honed by having experience as both a strategy consultant and an organizational executive, was that there is nothing magical about a strategy plan – even the most insightful and brilliant one is meaningless if no one uses it. Their response- “We do strategy; it is up to the client to figure out how to implement it.” [I have no idea if that firm would say the same thing today; I can only report that over the years we have had numerous clients who have complained about the dusty unused reports from some of those same well-known firms.]

Why are strategy plans so hard to implement? Here are a few suggestions that might help get to that “satisfaction”.

1. Short-term wins.

Sometimes the goals seem too elusive or distant. A good implementation plan has some short-term wins built in. If stakeholders can see some positive and responsive changes quickly, they are more likely to take the harder and more long-term ones seriously.

We once had an organizational client in need of a major programmatic overhaul on all levels of their operations. In the midst of our interviews and focus groups, we discovered that, of all things, there were some bathrooms only opened on special occasions. It was a source of irritation, but most people had been reluctant to raise it publicly because they thought it would come across as too trivial. The CEO had his own executive bathroom and was totally unaware of the issue. When we pointed it out, it was corrected over-night. The next time we visited that site, the CEO proudly showed us the open bathrooms and many of the stakeholders pointed to it as evidence that they would be listened to. It created the necessary opening for folks to be willing to put the harder questions on the table. Small win – larger opportunity.

2. Early and consistent involvement by all relevant stakeholders.

In the non-profit/volunteer governed world, there are lots of stakeholders who can make or break a strategy plan. Contrary to what many may think, it typically isn’t the number of informants who need to be consulted but the inclusion of the right ones.

Any of us who have gone through this process is accustomed to skeptics arguing that we didn’t talk to enough people. Unless it is a small group such as a family or foundation board, any organization will have much too large a stakeholder population to talk to everyone. Regrettably, sometimes leaders hope to limit turmoil by precluding certain groups, individuals, or stakeholders. Or sometimes the process takes so long that those initially committed to the process have moved on to other committees or commitments.

Not long ago, I got a call from the chief professional grantmaker of a large public charity. Her concern was that, despite the fact that there was a very carefully developed strategic plan, the volunteer grants committee never seemed to feel bound by it when making grant decisions. The professional asked me how they could persuade the committee to follow the ground rules. When I asked if any of the committee members had actually participated in establishing those priorities, the answer was “no – all of the current committee folks came on board after these priorities were established.”

Is it any wonder that they didn’t feel any sense of ownership of those priorities? By not continuing to invest in the buy-in process, even these insiders felt no sense of commitment. Just imagine how disoriented the grantees or applicants felt.

Similarly, many organizations are concerned that there are swaths of the population they want to serve who don’t attend, join, use their services, take them seriously. Yet instead of finding ways to actually hear those people, they do top down planning – often based on what they heard at the most recent conference. In the process, they may overlook crucial undercurrents of the reputation of their organization which transcend their programmatic initiatives. Planning for and not with is not a formula for successful implementation. Which brings us to

3. Aligning the culture with the strategy – and vice versa.

Any who have used my philanthropy strategy method know that I am a big believer that the starting point of successful strategy planning is not “mission/vision”” but is an understanding of organizational culture, and the diversity of cultures/styles among decision makers and relevant stakeholders.

Some of this should be fairly obvious. An organization that supports or works with innovators is probably going to do better with a lean decision making process. An entity which has facilities for older folks is likely to have, and emphasize that they have, easily accessible facilities. A large community based organization which funds lots of subsidiaries and raises money from the broader community is most likely going to have a consensus and risk averse decision-making process. One would be surprised to learn otherwise.

In each case, it also defines who are not likely to see themselves as primary stakeholders. Start up entrepreneurs are not likely to look at “stodgy” consensus type organization as being a productive address. Millenials are unlikely to assume that an organization which emphasizes its physical accessibility for seniors has core competencies in attracting their peer group. Those who believe that we are living through a transformational and revolutionary time in history are not likely to assume that the large long-established multi-service address is going to be the most gratifying fit for them.

Culture is NOT the surface affect. Many organizations seem to forget: style is not a facebook page and culture is not a twitter handle. And a brand, no matter how much one invests in shaping it, is only what others think it is.

This is not to argue against the possibility of change. There are many examples of companies and organizations that have done so successfully. But successful change only can happen when there is no pretense that cosmetic changes alone are credible to new audiences and disaffected stakeholders.

4. Internal organizational culture matters at least as much – the role of leadership.

Some years ago, a manufacturing company contracted with me to try to understand why there was so much resistance to the organizational changes proposed by a previously utilized strategy company. That plan recommended moving operational decision-making to work groups throughout the company including the factory floor. It was a very reasonable plan. The CEO couldn’t understand why the work force was so reticent to make these changes. When asked, the foremen reported that the groups didn’t feel that they had real decision-making authority despite what the CEO claimed. It turned out that the CEO would choose to overrule the groups, which he himself acknowledged, but, he said, he didn’t do it more than 10% of the time. No one knew when he would intervene so no one felt that they really did have the authority he claimed they had. That cultural divide was proving very counterproductive between top management and those who needed to implement the plans. As the independent outsider, I was able to help implement a change which enhanced operational effectiveness almost immediately.

Another example, this time in the non-profit realm: the CEO espoused a culture of creativity. It turns out that not all “creatives” were created equal. The CEO’s own ideas always were the ones considered creative. Those of others were almost always belittled. How creative do you think that culture proved to be?

What these two examples underscore is the central role of leadership in implementation. If the top leadership isn’t walking the talk, it is very unlikely others will choose to implement very many strategic realignments.

5. Alignment of resources with the desired changes.

Especially in the non-profit world, people are the resource. Sometimes an organization may have developed great competencies in a field no longer demographically appropriate. Early childhood staff are not trained to be teen workers or to run film series. If there is not re-training of existing staff or investments in new staff, it is going to be quite a challenge to implement a strategic change from one field to another.

Similarly, facilities are not always easily adaptable. Early childhood spaces are not likely to serve adult lecture series. If all the “millennials” are living downtown, a suburban location isn’t likely to be appealing.

An example from my own teaching experience: because of space limitations, NYU regularly rents high school facilities for its evening courses. To put it kindly, not all of those spaces are consistent with a message of serving the population I teach: philanthropists and foundation professionals. To be credible to this target market, and to implement the purposes of the NYU Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education required that the courses be offered in more professionally suitable settings. [I am happy to say that this did happen.]

Needless to say, implementation requires as much sensitivity, flexibility, and more long-term commitment than the initial development of a strategic plan. – and recognition that conditions sometimes require agility in adapting/modifying those plans as well. But with attention to these five components, there is a much greater likelihood that your own carefully wrought planning can be implemented successfully. And maybe you’ll be among those who will try and you’ll try and you’ll actually get some of that hard earned “satisfaction.”