A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

9 Ways to Make a Difference: Strategies From Small-Staffed Foundations

In our 30-page publication Twenty Ways to Make a Difference: Stories From Small Foundations, author Andy Carroll describes 20 strategies that draw upon the unique assets small-staffed foundations hold. Here are 9 of the 20 strategies—just a sample of the many ways Exponent Philanthropy member foundations are making a difference through their philanthropy. Do any intrigue you? Fit easily into your existing work?

Choose a focus

A focus allows funders to accumulate experience, knowledge, and contacts; align activities toward a common goal; spend time working on what is meaningful to them; and better assess progress, make adjustments, stay on track, and see impact. See the post Five Barriers to Focus and Ways to Push Past Them >>

Fill important gaps

Funders often keep a watchful eye on needs not met in their communities—a vigilance that springs from a commitment to their hometowns and involvement there as volunteers, parents, employers, and employees. They also accumulate knowledge over time as they review proposals and talk with community agencies. Sometimes they are the first to identify a problem yet unnoticed or to signal the alarm about a trend that threatens to harm, if ignored.

Provide emergency loan funds

Some foundations operate revolving loan funds to provide emergency loans to nonprofits. The nonprofits are often waiting for checks to arrive from the government or other sources, and the emergency loans keep critical services available. As program related investments (PRIs), these loan funds are repaid to the foundation so it may make more emergency loans.

Fund or engage in advocacy

Foundations can legally engage in many types of advocacy; in fact, they can fund and engage in most advocacy without limitation. In addition to supporting grantees’ activities such as convening or litigating, foundations can conduct their own advocacy. Those activities may include convening citizens or nonprofit groups to address community issues, issuing reports about problems, educating the media about an issue, trying to change or enforce regulations, training grantees how to lobby, and much more.

Build nonprofit capacity and leadership

Grants may fund a variety of services, including coaching for the executive director, professional development for managers, strategic planning, succession planning, board development, and staff team building. Many funders who value capacity building also see the value of multiyear support, because they realize that building strong organizations often takes years. Keep in mind: Capacity building is most effective when defined by the nonprofit’s needs. Ask your grantees what they need most. See the post Measuring the Effectiveness of Capacity Building Support: A Metrics Menu >>

Convene grantees or other funders

Funders can use their reputations to bring together grantees, other funders, or government agencies in their communities to prioritize community issues, review past approaches to particular problems, brainstorm new approaches and solutions, build consensus, or raise money to address a critical need.

Take the long view

Funders acknowledge readily that change and impact often take time, sometimes several years or decades. Those who take the long view commit to a project, organization, or goal for several years to bring about the change they seek.

Align investments with mission

Impact investments are made by funders of all types and sizes. They include investments across all asset classes and along the entire spectrum of risk and return. In recent years, interest in impact investing has grown significantly among investors, social entrepreneurs, and philanthropists alike.

Put it all together to catalyze change

Funders who catalyze change often look beyond individual projects or organizations—using their considerable resources to make progress on a broader problem or issue. They may employ several strategies at once—scanning the landscape to identify needs and potential partners; focusing efforts and inspiring partners toward a common purpose; committing resources for an extended period; convening stakeholders to move from ideas to action; and engaging in advocacy to increase public awareness and attract government support. See the post Reclaiming Philanthropy’s Role as Changemaker >>

Order your copy of Twenty Ways to Make a Difference: Stories From Small Foundations, free to Exponent Philanthropy members in PDF >>

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