We Are Closing Portfolio Pipeline For 2019

by Jessamyn Shams-Lau

During the past few weeks we've made the difficult and uncomfortable decision to not consider any new organisations for our portfolios for the whole of 2019. Sounds pretty hypocritical coming from a foundation that claims it's trying to be grantee-centric, huh? Well read on, dear reader, and you can assess for yourselves whether we've made an appropriate decision or not.

For a few years we've been learning how to bring focus to our work and decision making. As a team of 7, with around 90 grantees (many of which we fund for up to 10 years) across 3 portfolios and several initiatives, attempting to constantly become more grantee-centric, and building a deliberate org culture that is conducive to retention and wellbeing, we have often dropped the ball somewhere. For instance, we have a backlog of due diligence, both I and my colleague Avani have dealt with burnout, and we've had a longstanding staffing gap on our team.

Can you hear the tiny violin playing? Boohoo for us... But I'm not sharing our challenges to curry sympathy. These are realities for many small family foundations, and similar to (and arguably not as difficult as) the realities of most small nonprofits. And I'm aware of the many areas we experience privilege as an organisation, particularly relative to the nonprofits we support. I'm sharing this information to be more transparent because foundation decision making is so often a black box of mystery.

Balancing our commitments with our capacity and learning how to focus on only our most pressing priorities and commitments is a long and slow process because we are a team of folks whose biggest weakness is saying yes to good and important ideas or requests (yours truly is the worst offender). It's been a tough and protracted lesson to learn but we're finally getting the hang of it.

We ended 2018 reflecting on what had worked and hadn't worked during the year, reignited our excitement and vision for what's needed and possible at the PF, and then combined both to prioritise what was most important and realistic to accomplish in 2019. When it came to applying realism to our exciting visions for the future we had to say no to most ideas and activities that were important but weren't the most pressing things on our list. One of the big things we actively decided to say no to was increasing the number of orgs we serve in our portfolios.

So while, yes, we will not be able to look at or consider any new organisations in our Local, Regional, or Global Portfolios for PF funding this year, here's some of what we will be using that time to do:

  • Continue funding current grantees: During this time, nothing will change for our current grant commitments, which we will fund as agreed and consider renewals/increased grants to current grantees according to existing expectations. Any nonprofits currently in our DD process will continue through the process as usual. Over the past couple of months we've also started rolling out additional support for our multi-year grantees in the areas of fundraising, mental health, and general capacity building grants--all this will continue as planned.

  • Experiment with internal capacity solutions: We will be trying a 'high trust-low touch' approach with a portion of our current grantees to see where an even smaller time footprint might be appropriate and what the pros and cons are of this approach, especially with regard to grantee-centric philanthropy priorities. We will also be trying to 'co-design' grant processes with a couple of grantees and, separately, determine an ideal capacity and a realistic maximum capacity for our portfolios given our constraints.

  • Internal operations and fund management: We'll be making some pretty big admin and systems changes that won't affect our externally facing work, but will take a big internal lift to accomplish.

  • Board transitions and training: As the 2nd generation of the Peery Family become more involved as board members we'll be spending more time on board support, training, relationship building, and governance.

You can see more details in our full list of 2019 milestones, here.

That's the short version of how we made this decision. As always we're always open to ideas, critique, and feedback on our work that might help us improve in the future. So what do you think? Did we make an appropriate decision?