PF Whiteboard

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 “impact driven” organisations. The definition of “impact driven” that we’ve settled on, for now*, is: 1) a clear process around impact, 2) notions for scale, 3) a viable delivery model, 4) a realistic and efficient cost per outcome. Obviously there’s a lot of subjectivity within those 4 aspects.

We make decisions independent of each other, so we all fund some of the orgs classed as Big Bang orgs, and all fund many that aren’t. Sometimes we agree on what the above 4 aspects look like in real life, and sometimes we don’t. But we all share pipeline, insights, and, where we can, reporting (so one org funded by a number of us don’t have to produce just as many reports). Those classed as Big Bang orgs are funded at a certain level by at least 3 of the Big Bang funders who all agree that they meet the above 4 aspects of “impact driven”.

We’re still figuring out exactly how the Big Bang will operate and grow, but it’s a great group to learn from, to share ideas of what works and what doesn’t, and to push each other to be better at the business of philanthropy. The main reason we love Big Bang Philanthropy is because of that last point: we believe it’s a way to focus on becoming a more grantee-centric funding organisation, and for us to draw attention to simple but smart practices of philanthropy like unrestricted funding and multi-year commitments. Music to our ears!

*as anyone who has been involved with collaboratives can attest, coming to agreed upon definitions is a sticky, messy process.

What is a Funder’s Role in Collective Impact?

Last week, I was lucky to attend FSG’s and the Aspen’s Institute’s Collective Impact Forum conference in San Francisco. I learned achieving large-scale change through collective impact has five major components:

1) Common Agenda
2) Shared Measurement
3) Mutually Reinforcing Activities
4) Continuous Communication
5) Backbone Support

In one of the whole group sessions, someone shouted out a sixth major component: collective funding! The crowd seemed to unanimously agree. I wonder what this looks like.

I then learned a bit more about the functions of a backbone organization:

1)  Guide the vision and strategy
2)  Support aligned activities
3)  Establish shared measurable practices
4)  Build public will
5)  Advance policy
6)  Mobilize funding

I noted that funding was part of the core functions of a backbone organization, not necessarily to secure funding for the backbone, but for the collective initiative. After hearing directly from some backbone organizations, I tried to think about our role in all of this.  What are backbone organizations’ experiences trying to establish collective funding? Is it on the part of the backbone organization or the individual funders to establish funding/get involved? If a backbone organization doesn’t currently exist, what role does a funder have, if at all?

For more about FSG’s collective impact approach, visit:
FSG’s Approach

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 sides of paper. It started out as a multi-page document and after the realisation that it just wasn’t very PF to detail every possibility and scenario, we got it down to 2 sides. That covers hours, scheduling, holidays, time off, maternity leave, paternity leave, sabbaticals, benefits, performance reviews, compensation, reimbursements, and travel.

Here’s the beginning paragraph: “At the PF we only work with people we trust—that goes for grantees and team members. Our team members are expected to collaborate with each other and the community voraciously, but are also given autonomy within their roles and in managing their performance. There are areas of team support where we need to articulate what people can expect or plan on. That’s what this manual is for. We implement these policies with reasonable flexibility and expect our team to use them with good judgement.”

Good judgement. What does that mean?

We want our team to know the parameters we work within, and then have freedom to figure out how to use the space between to be at their best. Unexpected situations that will arise and we will navigate those in a timely manner, with trust and flexibility of all involved. Of course, that’s only possible when everyone values and exercises trust, autonomy, and good judgement—which is easier said than done. So, in the meantime that’s what we’ll spend our time building and practicing.

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 themselves – there’s just not enough of them to go around. They are needed everywhere, all the time.  Principals rely on their own heroes – masterful, committed teachers that give, and give, and give.
Dave and I were recently brainstorming ways to support principals and their heroes in the day-to-day work they give so much to. Schools sites already have established Site Leadership Teams (SLTs), where principals and teacher leaders come together to problem-solve and act upon the schools’ goals and needs. We want to support an existing structure. We hope to empower the team to act by giving them access to funds that already align with the work in which they are tasked.
Knowing how precious their time is, and how resources are either limited or restricted, we wanted to create a process that was simple with a quick turnaround. How can we support every leadership team without asking for too much of their time?  How can the grant making process be as painless as possible, and support the people that are doing such great work at the schools?
After talking through several ideas with Dave, we decided to tackle this question: Can we create a process of grant making through conversation? Within a week, I crafted an RFP and sent it out to all Ravenswood principals. The process essentially entails a 15-minute conversation with the SLT, no PowerPoint, no handouts. We’re not sure how it will be received, but are looking for feedback. Does the process seem easier than it actually is? Is the process rigorous enough?

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—as often as they interact with us if they wish. It’ll be right there in a link in our email signatures, and something we can direct people to after calls/meetings too.

Twice a year the results will be delivered in aggregate. We won’t know when each rating comes in or who rated us how. We won’t have access to the rolling results—it will only be delivered to us twice a year, without the ability to slice and dice the data by dates/months.

The characteristics we’ll be rated on (out of 5 stars) have been chosen by a group of social entrepreneurs. We asked them, ‘what would you want to rate funders on?’. They responded, in almost complete harmony: 1) Responsive, clear, and transparent communication, 2) Friendly, helpful, and happy to hear from me/work with me, 3) Challenging, knowledgeable, and valuable collaborator. There will be an optional short text box for additional feedback.

If you’re a grant seeker, would you rate us on this sort of thing after a call or meeting? If you had a good experience? If you had a bad experience? If not, why not?

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