A Conversation With Vittana's Former COO

The Peery Foundation has funded Vittana since 2008 with grants totaling over $600,000, with our last grant going out to Vittana after their announcement was made to close Vittana's doors. Kate, and I sat down for a reflective virtual chat about what we could both learn from Vittana's story given the grantee-grantor relationship between Vittana and the Peery Foundation.

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Big Bang

Last week I was in Fort Colins in Colorado, at the annual Big Bang gathering. Thankfully, the weather was delightful so my CA-light wardrobe was not tested for CO-winter readiness—it would have failed…Big Bang Philanthropy is a collaborative group of like-minded funders who all give at least $1M annually to global poverty solutions, more particularly to...

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Now We Are 4

We’re still small, but at 4 people you feel like a team—a real team. With our new found identify, we just created the first version of our Team Manual. We reviewed policies and procedures materials created by other foundations and learned a lot about the topics and policies we might want to cover. We went with a lite version, which, I’m excited to say, is exactly two...

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Grant Making By Conversation?

In the few months I’ve been at Peery, I’ve been meeting with community leaders throughout East Palo Alto. Particularly, I have learned a lot from the hard-working principals of Ravenswood City School District (RCSD). Given my own experience as a site administrator in Ravenswood, coupled with my recent conversations, I know that each of them wishes they could clone...

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Turning the tables (just a little)

We’re pulling the trigger on creating an app/platform that will enable us to get rolling feedback and ratings on our performance, from our grantees. Advocate Creative will be building us a platform that is simple to use, quick to complete and 100% anonymous. Our hope is once we have it in place our grantees (and others) can rate us on 3 characteristics on a rolling basis...

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The difference between equality and equity

The terms equality and equity, in the context of education and social issues, are used interchangeably often. But there may be a way to think about the terms differently, perhaps to better guide the process of grant making. Equality stems from the word equal, as in the same. You cut the pie equally, so that everyone gets the same amount. Equity starts with the premise...

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We grew!

Last month we brought on a new team member, Avani Patel (pronounced Av-ni). Avani is our Local Portfolio Director and will be building our work in East Palo Alto focused on educational outcomes.

Here’s some of what we’re excited about in having Avani as part of our team: - She came directly from the Ravenswood City School District, where her previous position...

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Grantees as Customers: Four ways funders can serve and empower grantees

At the Peery Foundation, we think of grantees as our customers and act accordingly. We’re not investing enough resources on our own to solve social issues at a systemic level, so we try to focus on our core function: to invest in social entrepreneurs and leading organizations. This means we leave the big, hairy problem-solving to grantees and focus on how to create a funding environment that better enables their success...

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Tips from an Instructional Designer

As you know we’re piloting a new class at BYU, one that we hope at some point soon we will adapt and deliver online for anyone to take. As part of this process we solicited the assistance of an instructional design professional. She had great tips and considerations for teaching from a distance and developing online content...

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Finished!

By Jessamyn Lau

We’ve been heads down for a number of months creating a social innovation syllabus. After weeks of white-boarding, scribbling and sketching, revising documents, review sessions and feedback calls, we pressed print.

Our class, ‘Do Good Better’, provides a structure for students to: 1) discover the varied roles they can play in the social innovation sphere, 2) learn about 3 key skills useful in all roles they might be interested in: root cause analysis, solution evaluation, and impact measurement, 3) create a 20yr, 5yr, and next-semester plan for their own unique contribution to their community (as they define it).

We’re insanely excited and slightly nervous. This is the first time Lanée and I have ever done anything like this, but we found ourselves creating the class we wish we could have taken. We quickly realised that the 14 week class would need an accompanying workbook, so we set about creating that too. 74 pages later, ‘Do Good Better: The Guide’, just got back from the printers. A tangible product of our work this summer! The Guide is complemented by aPinterest board of homework and resources, and the students will be blogging some of their developing ideas around social innovation on this Wordpress blog.

We have finished our preparation and we’ll start our small pilot class at BYU in a week and a half. Once it gets in the students’ hands the editing will begin again as we test and refine the content and delivery. So really we’ve only just started.

Scale or Depth

By Jessamyn Lau

Tomorrow I am teaching a class on how social entrepreneurs address really big problems. We’ll be over simplifying for the purposes of our 1hr 15 min class, but basically discussing two methods of impact and scale: 1) the laser focused approach, 2) the holistic approach.

I’m not sure if the two groups I’m using as examples (Nuru and One Acre Fund) would characterise their organisations in this way exactly, but their models provide an interesting contrast.

One Acre Fund being the example of laser focus, where Andrew Youn created a distinct model of working with small holder farmers, providing them with inputs, education and insurance that in one crop cycle at least doubles their harvests and profits. Small holder farmers + inputs + education + insurance. Very straight forward. Pretty quick. This focused model has enabled them to rapidly grow to 130,000+ families in only 6 years.

Nuru, by contrast is going the holistic approach, where Jake Harriman’s team acts like a general contractor of sorts, bringing in and layering solutions in Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Water & Sanitation, Healthcare, and Education, all within one village. Over time they train and build local leadership to continue to run the programs, so that the village as a whole owns and participates in the overall increase in standard of living. Between 2008 and 2011 Nuru had worked with 2,006 families in their pilot in the Kuria district of Kenya.

Nuru’s model is clearly moving at a slower pace, but goes so much deeper. And OAF’s model is arguably shallower, but has already produced extraordinary scale. So who has the better model?

The theory is that once Jake has got the Nuru model down, their ability to replicate and scale will increase. And now that Andrew has the OAF model reaching so many people in their farming network, he’s starting to layer on other products and services. Perhaps they are both right and will end up reaching similar numbers of people at a similar depth. We won’t know for awhile, it’s early days for them both. But how exciting to watch these two models, which in some ways are vastly different, work towards the common goal of eradicating poverty. We love working with these guys!

Do Good Better: The Blog

By Lanee Jensen 

We are officially 2 weeks in to our brand spankin’ new course on Social Innovation - Do Good Better.  So far, so good.  We’re piloting the class to a small group of students at Brigham Young University.

As part of the class students are asked to blog once a week on a prescribed topic - for example: “Defining Social Entrepreneurship: Do you believe it is important to have one definition of the term SE? Why or why not?”.  Thus far we’ve been quite impressed with the students’ responses; we’ve seen both impressive insight and a touch of healthy debate.

Give it a look, let us know what you think, and maybe even leave a comment or two.

Information Smorgasbord

By Lanee Jensen

Thanks to the internet (and google) we have almost endless information and resources at our fingertips.  We can access the life work, groundbreaking ideas, and carefully developed resources of experts in any imaginable field with a few strokes of the keyboard.  So why shouldn’t we?  It seems to me that in this age of information there is absolutely no excuse for reinventing the wheel.  There is just no sense in wasting time and energy re-doing something someone much smarter than us has already done.

We’ve mentioned before that we’ve recently developed a social innovation curriculum at the PF - something none of us have ever done before.  We have an idea, and we think it’s a good one, but to really make it useful we’ve found it’s best to borrow wherever possible (as long as we have all of the appropriate rights and permissions, that is).  For each lesson we’ve pulled articles, videos, and frameworks from across the web and our networks.  We think this makes our curriculum much, much stronger.  We may know that it’s important for our students to understand root cause analysis, for example, but we also know that someone else has far superior tools to actually teach it to them.

Throughout this process we’ve been pleased to find that everyone we have asked has been more than happy to share their resources and expertise (and we’ve asked a lot of people).  It just doesn’t make sense not to.  Especially in the context of the social sector—we all have the same vision and should help each other achieve success wherever possible.

So here’s our vote for more sharing, more borrowing, and much less reinventing.

Salesforce Update

By Lanee Jansen

At the end of last year we published a blog post declaring our plans to do a second major re-configuration of our Salesforce platform.  8 months later we are proud to declare that the project is done and Salesforce is running smoothly (or at least, as smoothly as one could expect it to).  I thought I would write a little update for those of you who are also wrestling with the benevolent beast that is Salesforce; perhaps our experience will be useful. Here’s what Salesforce does for us: - Tracks all of our investments - Stores our contacts and relationships (including interactions and connections between members of our network) - Generates reports and visuals of our data - Tracks value added and leveraged funds for each of our partners - Tracks milestones and metrics from our partners - Schedules check-ins and grants due

Here’s what we recommend to others (if customizing SF): - Hire a great consultant who wants to understand your organization and goals - it makes all the difference - Take the time to really figure out what it is you want from the platform before you begin - If what you thought you wanted doesn’t work, throw it out immediately and start over - Try using Salesforce for things you didn’t think you needed it to do - the possibilities are almost limitless and you’ll likely discover value you didn’t know was there - Test out a few apps, that’s what free trials are for - Find out how other organizations are using Salesforce

Oprah (with a beard) for the Social Sector

By Jessamyn Lau

A few months back I fed myself to the lions. I sat opposite the tenacious Jonathan Lewis, as he put me in the iOnPoverty hot seat, and fired questions at me under the glare of studio lights and flash of cameras. It turned out to be an enjoyable opportunity to think about and begin to articulate what had prepared me for my current role at the PF, things I’m learning about philanthropy, and my developing ideas about social entrepreneurship/social innovation.

I’d highly recommend checking out the other interviewee videos. Jonathan is building a resource full of diverse perspectives, experience and advice. For budding changemakers iOnPoverty is a platform for social innovation mentorship soundbites. There are some sage pieces of wisdom -actionable too- from Anne Marie Burgoyne from Draper Richards Kaplan, Akaya Windwood from the Rockwood Leadership Institute and many others. And it’s free for all viewers now! Enjoy!

Yelp for Foundations

By Jessamyn Lau

The ‘Yelp’ for non-profits, GreatNonprofits, provides an opportunity for people to review non-profit organisations (full disclosure: the PF has provided funding for GreatNonprofits in the past). On GreatNonprofits.org anyone can share their experiences and interactions with an organisation -highlighting those who provide great services and occasionally those that don’t do such a great job. Greatnonprofits’ mission is to inspire and inform donors and volunteers, gather stories that demonstrate the work of great non-profits, and promote excellence through transparency and feedback.

What if there were a GreatFoundations.org? A mechanism for grantees to review their experiences and interactions with a foundation. Somewhere to inform grant seekers of what kind of interaction they can expect. A repository for great stories of grantee-funder partnership. And somewhere to promote excellence through transparency and feedback. This is not a new idea, but one that has not come to fruition yet.

As people have discussed the potential of this I’ve heard concern about whether non-profits would actually participate or give truly frank feedback as they would never want to damage a funding relationship, or their reputation with other funders -an understandable and real concern. But what if the feedback could range in its level of detail? At the very least a non-profit could give an overall rating out of 5 stars for a foundation, then if they wanted to they could give ratings out of 5 for the foundation on various general categories, and then finally have the option to go in to detail by writing an actual review -all anonymously. The general categories could be things that cut across types and sizes of foundations, like ‘clarity’, or ‘respect’.

What other categories would be telling, yet general enough to apply to all funding interactions? Comment or email me (jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg) with your suggestions. We’ll pass them on should this idea get traction any time soon!

Philanthropy Misbehaving

By Jessamyn Lau

This week I heard a couple of fund raising horror stories. I was appalled by the behaviour of my fellow funding professionals. They are outliers, for sure, but it saddened me to hear of those few who sometimes turn talking to funders in to a dreadful or demoralising event.

Please, if you thrive on the inherent power imbalance in philanthropy, or don’t have respect for the people at the table with you, find another profession or industry. After 3 years in philanthropy I’m not yet an expert but feel protective of the approach to philanthropy many influential funders have worked hard to create. Funders like Philanthropic Ventures FoundationMulagoDraper Richards Kaplan and many others around the world. Those who constantly try to improve the way they walk the line of respectful candour, are conscious of the time they ask for from grant seekers, and simply trust their grantees.

It was put really well by Gayle Williams, ED of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, who I’ve never met but is quoted in a great Council on Foundations publication, ‘Wit and Wisdom’:

“Know that the culture of philanthropy is a culture of privilege and try to maintain a sense of humility within that place of power and privilege. People in the field can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. We can either behave in privileged ways, or we can work to maintain a deep sense of who we are and act with integrity and authenticity. There’s no easy way to deal with this tension, but we have to struggle with it. I’d worry if we didn’t struggle with the privilege that surrounds us.”

10 Nuggets of Wisdom for SE's (and the rest of us)

By Jessamyn Lau

From the Draper Richards Kaplan retreat, last week:

- Fire faster: Personnel problems tend to age more like milk than wine. - Exercise: This is non-negotiable if you are in this for the long run. - Decisions don’t have to take a long time if you’ve got the right people making them. - People do not describe themselves as ‘in poverty’. - Appreciate your critics: Grit makes polish. - The key to confidence is humility. - Reject all excuses: Trying really hard does not equal results. Do not confine your staff to mediocrity. - Your standard is exactly what you want to say but do nothing about. - Only the schizophrenic survive: The militantly optimistic, and constantly petrified. - You can’t do it alone: Isolation is one of your biggest dangers.

Observations on Development

By Jessamyn Lau

The difference between reading a business plan/strategic plan and talking through a plan with a founder is massive. Seeing in person the passion, determination, confidence, thought, sincerity, competence, awareness, etc, etc, is way beyond the communication ability of a slide deck.

There are also limitations on how much time an entrepreneur or leader can spend meeting funders and other supporters. Which is why it’s impossible to under-communicate how important a development hire is. Great development people don’t feel like development people. They communicate similar passion, determination, confidence, thought, sincerity, competence, awareness, etc, etc, to their org’s founders.

They can answer questions about org culture, innovation, in the field progress, current challenges, and most other things we’d ask a founder. And they never schmooze, ego-boost, or leave you feeling hit-up. It’s relationship building at its best.