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¡Sí, se puede, philanthropy!

We have the privilege of ruminating on some pretty big questions here at Linksbridge.

Most recently, during a strategy engagement with an international foundation’s humanitarian emergency relief team, we were excited to have the opportunity to tackle some mighty ones from an expert lens*, such as: What are the ways in which we can amplify the voices of communities most affected by climate change and disaster? How do we transform the global humanitarian system? How do we best leverage innovation in emergencies?

Personally, this engagement brought me back to my years of working in a program capacity in philanthropy and got me thinking. This client follows a plethora of best practices that all funders could and should live by, like:

  1. Be engaged, listen, and follow the lead of your grantees and partners
  2. Provide fast, flexible funding that increases funding leverage
  3. Even better, make rapid response grants!
  4. Minimize paperwork (i.e. can you accomplish the same thing with a phone call?)
  5. Vary reporting and application requirements based on grant type
  6. Innovate and support new approaches
  7. Put communities at the center of the solution and, when possible, support at the local community level
  8. Provide long grant cycles and multi-year funding
  9. Right-size monitoring and evaluation efforts
  10. Adjust approaches based on adaptive learning from successes and failures

Many funders are not coming anywhere near these practices and, in fact, the data is pretty abysmal for philanthropy. According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), in a 2011 survey of 1,121 of the largest U.S. funders, only one-tenth reported any multi-year grantmaking. In addition, a 2012 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations study found that half the respondents did not vary their reporting requirements depending on grant size or type.

It is even rarer to have reporting and/or proposal processes that are non-traditional (i.e. over the phone or in another non-written form) or to provide rapid response funding. While these trends, thankfully, seem to be shifting, there are still plenty of opportunities from which funders can learn and improve.

So, why is this client so awesome and doing all of this cool stuff that other funders aren’t?

I personally think that it’s because the team has leadership with a vision, and, moreover, comes from a background of working in the field. They have seen firsthand what works and know what it’s like to be a grant seeker and run programs in complex emergency environments. This type of experience makes a huge difference.

It also proved to me (once again) that minor programming adjustments can be revolutionary and that small groups can do amazing work that changes the world and tackles some of the most difficult global problems, while aiming for system change.

It takes creativity and courage, as well as, frankly, some humility and empathy, but we all can get there. ¡Sí, se puede – philanthropy! For that matter, sí, se puede – world! Let’s all roll up our sleeves together and make some change.


*(Seriously — Barry, Bobby Scho, and Durham’s past fieldwork experience in complex and natural disasters brought them to Bosnia, Serbia, Georgia, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Myanmar, China, Chile, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan, Iraq, Russia, Rwanda, Tajikistan, and a whole host of other countries — wow, right!? These are my coworkers!)