Philanthropy doesn’t stand still. Pressing issues and seismic political, economic and technological shifts move us to regularly revisit how we work.
Urgency, passion, curiosity, and the desire to engage is driving a number of lean funders (those with few or no staff) to center their giving around authentic relationships with grantees and members of their community. As a result, this type of creative, catalytic philanthropy sets them apart.
Notably, where foundations typically:
- Get information from proposals and site visits, these funders educate and inform themselves before making grants.
- Distance themselves from grantees and members of the community through elaborate application processes, these funders invite conversations, nurture relationships, and seek new ideas and feedback from these stakeholders.
- Emphasize grants and dollars, these funders leverage powerful assets such as knowledge, connections, reputation, access, influence, and the freedom to take on difficult or controversial issues to give beyond dollars.
- Operate on a short-term, year-by-year cycle, these funders commit themselves to an issue for years or even decades.
Inspired by these deeply engaged funders, we are championing catalytic philanthropy as a way to achieve true outsized impact. Indeed, lean funders are perfectly positioned to embrace these practices, as they have deep ties to their communities, operate with less bureaucracy, can respond to emerging opportunities quickly, and are able to focus in a laser-like way.
We invite foundations and donors to join the movement, and embrace these catalytic practices:
- Focus on one or two issues, or a community.
- Develop a common understanding of what you want to accomplish.
- Listen deeply and learn from grantees, members of the community and diverse experts.
- Understand the ecosystem of your chosen issue or community.
- Identify gaps and needs, and leverage points for change.
- Commit to a course of action for multiple years.
- Develop relationships with grantees and members of the community to build trust.
- Respect and rely on the experience and wisdom of grantees.
As you immerse yourself in these practices, you’ll see the potential to have an impact at a larger systems level. Eventually, you’ll raise your sights and think big, awakening your imagination and sense of what’s possible. Consider, actions that appeared risky—convening, collaboration, and advocacy—will become logical, natural steps in your quest for impact. In fact, as your work unfolds, you’ll move from grant giver to active catalyst for change.
This transformative journey will prepare and position you for powerful work, specifically:
Strengthening organizations and communities
- Providing the flexible, long-term support nonprofits need
- Building the capacity and leadership of nonprofits and networks
- Supporting community organizing
Advancing equity and inclusion
- Supporting small, dynamic grassroots organizations
- Nurturing and supporting leaders of color
- Engaging grantees and members of the community in decisions
Convening and connecting
- Gathering grantees, nonprofits, government agencies, business leaders, educators, and others to generate solutions together
- Mobilizing diverse partners around an issue to develop action plans, coordinate efforts, and build collective will
- Leveraging your relationships to serve as a community broker and matchmaker
Nurturing creativity and innovation
- Seeing patterns and connections among disparate events, groups, and issues to identify new solutions and ideas
- Providing seed funding for promising ideas and cutting-edge entrepreneurs
- Developing talent, leadership, and human potential
Influencing policy and building civic participation
- Speaking out to focus attention on urgent issues
- Funding and disseminating research for policy change
- Promoting civic education, participation and voter engagement
- Elevating the voices of those who are voiceless in the policy arena
- Catalyzing reforming antiquated, ineffective systems
When lean funders embrace their unique abilities to learn, nurture relationships, and bring people together, they become powerful change-makers. Furthermore, your path to bold, creative, catalytic philanthropy can start today with the most humble of acts—listening.
Wherever you are in your journey, Exponent Philanthropy is a community here to help you each step of the way.
Ways to start your catalytic philanthropy journey:
Facilitation Skills Training
May 11 – June 22, 2022 / 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm ET
Learn the elements of great facilitation and make meaningful connections with peers in this seven-week, four-module intensive training. Learn more >>
Catalytic Philanthropy Learning Lab
This Learning Lab is for all kinds of lean funders looking to lay the groundwork for letting go of the classic grantmaking paradigm of applications, cycles, and approvals, and dig into solving problems by being responsive to those closest to the issues.
Recordings are available per module, or as one complete series.
- Position Yourself for Catalytic Philanthropy
- Streamline, Let Go, and Engage with Your Community
- Understand the System
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About the Author
Andy Carroll advises staff, trustees, and donors of leanly staffed foundations in leadership, advocacy, and catalytic philanthropy. He works to empower more small foundations to leverage their unique position and assets to catalyze change on important issues. Andy has an MBA from the University of Michigan Business School and 30 years of experience in management, training, and program development for nonprofit organizations. Follow him on Twitter >>