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Posts tagged ‘grantmaking strategy’

New Year’s Eve Procrastinators and New Year’s Strategists

January 2nd, 2017

Richard Marker

Whew! The end of the year solicitation onslaught is over. It is safe to look at your email again – and even to open some of your snail mail. If an end of the year contribution was on your agenda, you have made sure it was paypal-ed or stamped by Saturday evening. Time to return to more contemplative and plan-ful philanthropy.

I am not an expert in fundraising at all but I have to assume that all of those solicitations work – at least for some. Do they persuade people who otherwise wouldn’t give or just provide that last-minute oomph to procrastinators? I am not sure.

What I do know is that around this time of year, because of what I do professionally, people often ask me why people give. If I listen to the question carefully, I usually see that there is an underlying bias by the person who asks: some are absolutely sure that a “tax deduction” is the driver. Others are convinced that guilt is a prime motivator. Fewer want to credit pure altruism. This year, a lot of folks believe that political fears are yielding more advocacy funding than ever. Social pressure to “give back” is often suggested, raising the question whether those funders would give at all if their peers weren’t giving as well. Among younger funders, “making a difference” surely is a major motivator. And, let’s not forget the insights from our friend and colleague, Jenny Santi, whose research demonstrated that giving can be a source of happiness.

Fortunately, our role is never to persuade someone to give; everyone with whom we work is already a “giver.” Our role is only to help them make good, ethical, and wise decisions. However, what we do know about giving motivation is that reductionism – that is looking for a single motivator – is wrong. No one’s philanthropic behavior can be reduced to a single cause. We are all complex beings, all of us, and it belittles the significance of philanthropy to try to reduce any individual’s giving to only one rationale.

However, when we work with funders and foundations, all of these reasons do come into play – not in whether to give but in making decisions where and how to give. When giving itself is no longer the question, knowing what will prove gratifying is. Sometimes that will determine recipients; more often it will determine how a grant or gift or contract is structured, what intended outcomes are to be, and what relationship a funder or foundation wishes to have with recipients of their funds.

In this context, self-awareness matters a lot, especially if there are family or board decisions. Knowing why one is drawn to or is averse to a particular request may have nothing to do with the legitimacy of the request or even how compelling it is, but everything to do with whether that proposal will align with our giving culture or style. And that culture or style is very much influenced by underlying values and attitudes toward the proper role of philanthropy or government, what we think is the essential nature of human beings, one’s relationship to peer groups, and more. None of these is necessarily more legitimate than another, but knowing what comprises our own drivers, and understanding the complex motivations of those around our giving table may make all the difference in how we end up feeling about the funding decisions we make.

And, as clients and students of ours can attest, that applies whether our giving reflects New Year’s Eve procrastination or New Year strategies.

My Grantmaking Strategies – and How I Got Here

October 10th, 2012

Richard Marker

It was a fair question. After all, I advise, lecture, and teach about grantmaking around the world. Helping funders align their strategies with intent, culture, resources, impact, and implementation is how I spend my professional time. And it is always flattering to hear that a growing number of wealth managers, philanthropy advisors, and independent funders and foundations are using the method I articulated some years ago.

So, indeed, it was a fair question when I was asked recently – “What are your priorities and funding focus?” Do I, as it were, practice what I teach?

I must confess that it took me several years to hold myself to the discipline I prescribe. It isn’t so easy to graciously say no to all of the “social” requests. There are friends who are being honored; organizations which do good work which deserve support and whose staff or board we have a personal connection; colleagues on boards with us; past clients…. We all recognize the problem. None of us is exempt, and the higher one goes in leadership roles, the more the assumptions of reciprocity.

The next area which required a lot of thought, and squirming, is how I feel about the big legacy re-granting or umbrella charities. These groups defined 20th century philanthropy and, in professionally crucial ways, I was a beneficiary of these organizations for many years. Even as I became more focused, did I have a responsibility to continue to pay those dues [or as some would say, my communal tax]? Or could we, in good conscience, extricate ourselves from that kind of giving?

One of the areas which helped me along over the last decade was the degree to which I became a volunteer leader, with all of the time and financial responsibilities that entailed. I had always been an active board member of a lot of organizations, and often found myself an officer or executive committee member. But until 10 years ago, there was no question that those were extracurricular activities. I was fully employed by others. In a way that everyone recognized, the scope of what I could commit was limited. But over the last 10 years, as a self-employed advisor, I had no one to account to except myself [and Mirele, of course.] The extent of my time and financial commitments were up to me. It forced me to think quite differently about to what I wished to devote that time and energy, and which involvements were either not gratifying or beyond my capacity to be a meaningful leader. Even as my time and financial commitments grew, I found myself dropping boards that didn’t fit those standards. Implicitly I began to see that one important basis for the focus of my own philanthropy was the degree to which my personal involvement was meaningful and [pardon the jargon] impactful. It became easier to see that, as valuable and important as the large legacy organizations may be, our gifts are not large enough for us to play the kind of role I wish to do with the recipients of our personal philanthropy. Not so easy a decision, and clearly arguable, but one I reluctantly made.

That process, in turn, forced us to think more forthrightly about what really were the values that we wanted to support. There is no limit to need; no paucity of worthy organizations; and no shortage of societal issues about which we care. There was no way that these issues could be limited to one, but we gradually were able to winnow the focus down to two areas that seemed to work for us: social change [including, of course, environmental matters] and inter-group understanding.

Aha! there we have it: two subject areas. And within those, a style approach: a decision to support those with which I or we have a meaningful involvement. And it works. People have come to understand [if not always appreciate] our absence from dinners. They see that we have had enough leadership roles that we clearly are doing our part somewhere, even if not “there”. And I suspect that they respect that we have tried hard to be good reliable funders who model making a difference – and not fritter away our resources where it won’t.

In any case, the discipline has forced us to apply the standards and learnings I encourage others to follow. Even if the places we end up supporting are idiosyncratic, it is a strategy that works for us, and reflects a systematic strategy we can live with.

Thanks for asking.

Forbes, 9 March 2012

March 11th, 2012

Richard Marker


Rahim Kanani, Contributor
3/09/2012 @ 4:03PM

Philanthropy Expert Richard Marker on What Every Donor Needs to Know

In a recent interview with Richard Marker of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, we discussed lessons that every funder must internalize, challenges and opportunities facing today’s donor community, and much more.

Richard Marker is co-principal of Wise Philanthropy™, a firm that includes: Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy AdvisorsThe Wise Philanthropy Institute, and Green Strides Consulting.

Richard Marker, an internationally known expert on philanthropy is the Founder of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education. The Academy is the oldest and most comprehensive university program teaching funders and philanthropists in the United States. In February 2007, he was recognized with the NYU Excellence in Teaching Award.

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The for-profit public-benefit dilemma

March 1st, 2012

Richard Marker

For the last few years, whenever I have spoken to graduate students in public policy or business, it is quite evident that there is a pretty clear belief that there is a better way to solve social ills. If it is possible to create a for-profit incentive which would feed, cure, heal, house, or educate, that has to be better than the existing predominate model – the ngo or nfp model.

They aren’t the only ones.  States are falling over themselves passing one or another form of L3C’s or other hybrid models – as if to say, we want to take the lead in endorsing and enabling this better way of thinking.

And there are websites, linked-in groups, and assertive advocates who are true believers.

One can sympathize with this trend. Wouldn’t it be great if one could indeed take advantage of private capital markets to reach scale, indulge self-interested investors, and at the same time do what decades of non profits could not do.  Why not do well by doing good, and do good by doing well at the same time?  In the current environment of widespread cynicism, it is an approach which by-passes government run programs and legitimates self interest.  And, if correct, it allows long-term sustainability which does not depend on non-profit type fundraising.

Some of the models have had some success.  Micro-lending, until it became overwhelmed by those financial institutions who saw this as easy money, had a record of making a real difference. Kiva, while technically an indirect method, appeals to those who want to play in this world but have more limited means.  Some of the early investors in renewable energy were ahead of the curve and did indeed outpace the market for a period of time.  And there are more.

The question remains, though, if these private models are themselves sustainable – as models of solving the resistant problems of humankind.  Efficient  and private food resources have still required SNAP or the UN in order to make food available efficiently and affordably to the embarrassingly large number of hungry.  Genuine renewable energy systems are still niche players when faced with entrenched lobbying interests in the carbon fuel industry.  There is little evidence that private universities are educating folks better or more efficiently than the public-non-profit system that exists – despite its unwieldiness.

More pointedly, many of the newer models have not yet faced the challenges of when private financial interests compete or conflict with public interest.  Advocates on both sides of this are quite vocal, but as one who has no skin in the game, I have yet to be persuaded.

Thus the question for the readers:

Are hybrid models simply the latest fad, only a small portion of which will achieve the desired impact, scale, and sustainable results to make a difference OR are hybrid models the true 21st Century innovation which will correct for the broken, or at least inadequate, system of solving deep seated and pervasive human needs and want?  Before weighing in further on this myself, I welcome your thoughts.


How Philanthropy Taught Me to Embrace Failure – A Precondition to Success

November 27th, 2011

Richard Marker

Typically, I find that I, as with many of my colleagues who write about philanthropy, extrapolate from personal experience to develop insights into good grantmaking strategies, ethics, and impact. This time, however, the reverse is true: after years of grantmaking, and teaching about grantmaking, I have learned very important things about myself.

The issue: the value of failure.
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Is your business impacted by the economic roller coaster?

August 24th, 2011

Richard Marker

Not since 2008 have we heard this question so often. Sometimes it is asked out of simple curiosity, sometimes out of presumed sympathy for what some assume must be a difficult time, and sometimes it is asked as a way to anticipate what the funder community might be thinking. Is our business, the business of advising foundations, funders, and families on their philanthropy strategies, impacted at this time?

The short answer is no. But since the question is asked so frequently, it clearly deserves a longer answer.
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