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Scenarios are stories about different future environments in which today's decisions might play out. We cannot predict the future. However, by thinking creatively and rigorously about a range of scenarios, we can rehearse future possibilities and prepare for what might be next.In the summer of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, job losses mounted, and the movement for racial justice grew across the U.S., one thing was clear: nonprofit leaders were trying to figure out how to manage in such a volatile, highly uncertain, and complex environment. The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation had long been committed to helping nonprofits cultivate resilience and grow the related capacities for responding and adapting to significant change and uncertainty. Scenario thinking was a natural fit for this moment. In the second half of 2020, the Foundation offered a training program, Rehearsing the Future, to four cohorts of grantees, partners, and staff. Through a series of virtual working sessions participants were introduced to the discipline of scenario thinking and the core steps of the scenario-creation process.
Many foundations that are guided by a long-term commitment to move the needle in a finite set of issue areas also hold "special grantmaking" funds. These program dollars can be flexibly deployed for nascent opportunities, innovative ideas, emergencies, local causes, and/or areas of high interest to their leaders.Little has been written about special grants as a vibrant resource for philanthropy. While these funds are not always advertised publicly, they are more than purely discretionary. On the contrary, special grants can be made with purpose in mind and aim to advance the holistic goals of their respective foundations.This essay is rooted in the experience and observations of Matthew La Rocque and Barbara Kibbe, members of the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's Effectiveness team. It explores the purpose of special grants, how they are made and monitored, and their advantages and challenges.
This essay provides a fast-paced tour of grantmaker approaches, launching with the advent of long-range planning in the 1980s and visiting scenario planning, social return on investment, human-centered design, big data, and other developments that have influenced practice. The author lands on strategy and evaluation as the anchor approaches that will fuel greater philanthropic impact in the new decade.This writing draws on content the author originally published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog in March 2014. It makes the case that philanthropy needs to reclaim the meaning of strategy and conveys insights via "five things strategy isn't" -- e.g., strategy cannot be inflexible, insulated, or disconnected from those responsible for implementation. The author concludes with a refreshed set of predictions for the next chapter in the unfolding story of strategy and evaluation.
Engaging a strategy consultant is per se high stakes. Looking across your organization and its work to find and describe the most effective path forward can be exhilarating. It can also be unsettling as "outsiders" review, question, assess, and opine on the state of your enterprise. In fact, the best strategy processes are both exhilarating and unsettling.It goes without saying that all strategy processes should inspire and motivate staff and board, challenging these and other key participants to question assumptions and explore opportunities. Taking advantage of the process of engaging strategy experts to accomplish some skill transfer to internal staff is an added plus. But a strategy process worth the effort and investment should provide more than a boost for morale or a training exercise.Getting started with strategy work can be complicated by the fact that strategy consultants are a diverse group. Individuals and firms differ -- sometimes wildly -- from each other in terms of skills and approach. What then is the best way to start this journey? How can you find and work well with the "right" strategy consultant?There are at least four distinct purposes for strategy work, each of which suggest a different approach. Identifying the right approach to meeting your needs will depend on whether the reason for doing strategy work is occasioned by internal needs or external shifts in the context for the work of your organization, and on whether the audience for the new strategy is mostly internal or mostly external.
Funding relationships begin, and they end. An exit might occur as planned in a time-limited initiative, arise through new research or evaluation insights, or follow shifts in funder priorities. Whatever the reason, grantmakers can take steps to advance positive relationships and outcomes for grantees. What do funders leave behind when they exit? What approaches to exits are most effective at preserving or extending the results of good work? At ensuring that grantees and fields thrive?These and other questions were explored through interviews with a combination of funders and grantees, drawing from stories of more than a dozen exits. The greatest exit challenges related to the confluence of three factors: (1) the central role the funder had chosen for itself; (2) the scale of support offered, especially when it outpaced other support for the issue or organization; and (3) the difference between the expected and actual duration of that support.While much more needs to be understood about why and how funders exit as well as about the effects, below are some sensible practices that can immediately improve both relationships and outcomes related to funder exits.
What do funders leave behind when they exit? What is lost? Are there approaches to exits that are more effective at preserving the results of good work? Through interviews with 19 professionals who have experienced or are currently working through a foundation exit, this article draws on stories of more than a dozen such exits to fill the gaps in what is known about how to exit well.This article discusses four areas where foundation exits present particular challenges and where there are significant opportunities to improve practice -- deciding on and planning to exit, funder leadership, clear communication, and final grants -- and includes summaries of advice from funder and grantee perspectives.This article aims to offer practical insights that may help improve what is all too often an uncomfortable, confusing, and potentially damaging process, and, it is hoped, will spur continued research and contribute to a sustained dialogue about how to preserve, or even extend, value in the context of a foundation exit.