Four observations on giving
BERK is often called upon to help articulate philanthropic strategies. Much of that work involves data and research, but here are a few observations on the more intangible principles that can matter a lot:
1. It's personal. Where you give and how you give is a matter of identity. For example, in a small family foundation, you are responsible for reflecting the identity of family trustees. In a corporate giving setting, the identity or brand of the company is tightly enmeshed with its giving strategy. With that in mind, it is paramount that you have a firm and clear grounding in the values and beliefs underlying the giving before you can craft a solid strategy.
2. Giving is not just about dollars. There is a long list of things some organizations might take over dollars, or more realistically, with dollars. Professional connections, communications and branding support, data and analysis support, pro-bono research, consultant hours, hours from an employee volunteer base, and your thought partnership are just a few. A solid strategy draws on the full breadth of resources a giving entity has to offer, tailored to the capacities and needs of its partner organizations.
3. A grant is not a gift. With a gift, such as a box of chocolates, the giver gives, and the receiver receives. Thanks are given and the exchange is over. Both parties can go on their merry way. Now, imagine getting 100 cases of chocolate from a generous giver who then calls you quarterly to find you how much you are enjoying that chocolate. You are grateful, because you surely do love chocolate, but you've also had to invest in a new refrigerator to store it and a monitoring and evaluation specialist to report on it, and you can't be sure any more chocolate is coming through to make this all worth it. Skilled grantmakers recognize grantees' capacities and tailor a giving approach accordingly.
4. Giving happens in an ecosystem. The term ecosystem can sometimes be used simply as an a easy proxy for the multitude of players and funders linked within a given issue area. Drawing tighter parallels to the world of ecology, we might map the dynamic interactions among those parties, consider the unique niche or “right role” for each party, and look for “edge effects” (junctions between systems that house greater biodiversity aka nature’s innovation zones). These considerations can be critical for highlighting when to take a backseat (sometimes a challenge for identity reasons; see #1) and where there is a gap in the system to fill with a big role.