Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Approach to Foundation Giving

DRAFT If you read my previous entry, you will see I put forth a way in determining your volunteer and philanthropic activity. This is a different way to give.
I have served on a few boards in my time and served as staff on a non-profit board. It occurs to me we give funds because we are asked to and/or we believe in the mission of the organization. Most non-profits are staff driven. A new board chair can change the mission and activities of an organization quickly. When this type of change occurs, and next is the resources (staff and fund).
In my experience, I see the staff leadership as key. My thoughts are to set up a foundation that would administer a series of funds that an individual in the non-profit sector could apply for. The successful applicant would be eligible for the interest of the funds generated annually. The length of the grant is 5 years. The annual amount available would be an estimate. The successful applicant would be issued a credit card that could be used to purchase goods and services directly related to the efforts of the organization. The foundation would receive a monthly bill so expenditures could be tracked.
What is unique about this method is the following:
  • It would go to an individual as opposed to an organization.
  • The organization would not be aware of a successful grant. The reason is sometimes other donors look at is as this non-profit just received a nice size grant, so I can decrease my commitment for this organization and give more to another.
  • The individual that receives the grant is under no obligation to share it with the non-profit board or others.
  • The individual that receives the grant would be able to transfer it to a new job, if it is in the private sector.
  • The individual that receives the grant would have considerable discretion on how the funds are spent.
Think of it as a worthy individual working in a non-profit has a fund he can tap into for special needs. I think an example is in order. It will focus on education, but this approach can apply to a multitude of non-profits.
If you have seen the movie "The Freedom Writers" you know what happens. For those of you that have not, let me summarize it. A caveat, I am not sure how much of it is true. The movie centers on an idealistic teacher fighting to educate "lost" kids that the education system has written off. She takes two-part time jobs to pay for supplies and activities she thinks will connect to her students and help her better teach her subject matter (English). An example, she buys her students new books with funds from her own pocket. The book is The Diary of Anne Frank. The kids in her class never got new books in school. It sent a strong message to her students. Like most of the other students, they finally get new books too. The class chatter and excitement is quite remarkable. A comment from one of the teacher's student was it is the first time she could remember getting a new book as opposed to a much used and recycled text book.

Now, my foundation would allow the teacher to buy her kids new books so perhaps the teacher would not have to work two additional part-time jobs. It would be the same for an art teacher that wants to buy her students art supplies or take them to a museum.
Notice how I focus on the individual providing the service and not the organization. Organizations can be cumbersome and not receptive to change or new ideas. In some cases the board of a non-profit thinks it knows better how to spend the grant than the donor or the individual I would grant to funds to. Just consider this; an individual can make a tremendous difference because they are in essence the boots on the ground. They see and experience more and they must be innovative if they want to reach their students.
Yes, I know this is simplistic, much like my last post. It would take far more work and oversight, but in the end I think it is worth it. Back to the education example.  One good teacher can positively impact dozens of students. It is not always about the organization, it is more about the people in the organization. It is not about helping the privileged, it is about connecting with the kids that have little or nothing and struggle every day. Match the people who can connect with these kids and offer to make it easier for these teachers to focus on helping the kids.

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