Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thinking about Philanthropy and its Roles

I read a post on New Voices in Philanthropy coincidentally the night the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis because I wanted to reference Trista’s blog in the upcoming EPIP newsletter. That night she had posted a question about what philanthropy should do in response and her question was embedded in my mind the day after as I listened to coverage of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Especially when I was driving around Denver and witnessed two news crews filming bridges over I-25 that were crumbling - ah, the sensationalist press.

I think another role not mentioned in her post is how foundations can affect policy change. Specifically, within the government's taxing structure, which continually has a negative spin to it by politicians and the press. The government needs money to prevent tragedies like this and the way government is funded is through taxes. Of course, some would argue that government wastes the money it has. Funding advocacy groups or watchdog groups who could step in with some oversight could be another role for philanthropy. Or, we could just rely on our systems of checks and balances.

What is your experience with public policy change? Should foundations have a role? If so, what should it be?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top 10 Reasons Why Philanthropy Blogging is Important to the Future of Foundations

I started a blog about next generation philanthropy issues because I was having such a great time taking about the issues of the philanthropic sector at Minnesota’s monthly EPIP lunches and was very disappointed that there wasn’t another place where those conversations were happening. After talking to Jessica at the Future Leaders in Philanthropy blog at an EPIP conference about blogging’s role in developing a voice for this generation’s leaders, I decided to write my own. Creating my blog and interacting with the community it has created has not only been a great experience for me personally but I think it is part of a trend that is important to the sector as a whole. The top 10 reasons why blogs are good for the future of foundations:

  1. Traditional media doesn’t really give a hoot about what happens in the foundation world. Buffet gifts aside, it is hard to find consistent coverage of the sector, blogs fill that void.
  2. Blogs identify trends. New ideas that are bubbling up in the sector (or old ideas that are being reconsidered) first show up in blogs. Topics like rethinking the term “nonprofit”, should nonprofits play a role in election campaigns, and the public relations problem of Gen X are all being discussed on philanthropy blogs right now.
  3. Foundations are notoriously secretive and blogs are very open. Blogging about the field lifts that curtain so everyone can see Oz and as scary as that is, it makes us better at our jobs.
  4. Nonprofits are looking for clues about how foundations operate. Blogs give insight into the people behind the letterhead.
  5. Blogs invite participation. Participation creates new and better ideas than closed door brainstorming sessions.
  6. Blogs are timely. Traditional philanthropic media is usually monthly or quarterly, blogs can report quickly on things that are important to the field.
  7. Blogs give power to the young and tech savvy. You don’t have to have the budget for a newsletter to be heard anymore and that levels the playing field for young people.
  8. Readers vote with their clicks about what content is important to them. Good bloggers take reader statistics to heart and that increases the amount of relevant stories about philanthropy published over time.
  9. Blogs make writers become more introspective about their reasoning. Writing about your beliefs and decision-making process keeps you accountable and forces you to look in the mirror.
  10. Social Change is messy and so are blogs. You can’t change the world by making a proclamation from a mountaintop, you need to get in the mud and get to work. Blogs have an “all hands on deck” feeling and I think that is the only way we are going to make real change.

Trista Harris, Chair of EPIP-MN, is a Program Officer at the Saint Paul Foundation and is the voice behind, a blog about next generation philanthropy issues.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Intrinsic Value of EPIP:
(You get way MORE than what you pay for!)

I was recently asked my reasons for joining the EPIP Board of Advisors. Rather than mouth off a corny answer like, “it is a great organization” (which it is by the way!) I decided to put down on paper why I feel compelled to support an organization like EPIP.

1. In my personal view foundations (private, independent, and community) in general have a liberal connotation to them (despite the types of grants they make!) simply because of their definition. Given this feeling, one can assume that opportunities for leadership, professional development and personal growth must be abundant for foundation employees. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Opportunities for leadership and professional development vary from one extreme to another from one foundation to another and the mission of the organization has nothing to do with it. Real opportunities to work on projects that involve organizational sustainability, strategic growth and development are few and far in between. When I first viewed the EPIP Board nomination form, I saw these opportunities reflected there, ones that I greatly lacked in my existing position as an emerging grant maker.

2. A recent EPIP survey across various chapters showed that career guidance is an issue of tremendous interest. Given that the purpose of foundations is to give away money to nobler causes they often tend to be small in staff size to keep operating costs to a minimum. Emerging grant makers might not have access to mentors or career guidance in the form of their supervisor or coworkers. In light of this situation, a community like EPIP is extremely valuable where peers can share experiences and learn from each others successes and challenges. At the same time the networking benefits for career advancement are tremendous.

3. And lastly, EPIP’s mission to advance the field of social justice philanthropy is unique in itself. As mentioned above, foundations and philanthropy might conjure images of left wing ideologies. However, social justice philanthropy is about being fair in the way we give money and giving stakeholders in the process a voice and platform to be heard. This is crucial in order to bring about policy reform in the philanthropic sector and the field beyond.

You don't have to be a Board member to access these opportunities. Opportunities abound for all EPIP members to take on a leadership role in their local chapters, organizations and communities. These opportunities can take the role of recruiting new members, helping your local chapter grow (sustainability, strategic planning etc) or just being an EPIP ambassador!

So there you go folks, I am definitely making the most of my membership. Are you?

Pooja Joshi
EPIP Board of Advisors