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.

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.

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?

The difference between equality and equity

(A post from our new Local Portfolio Director, Avani Patel)

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 that things are not equal, so the way in which resources are allocated should also not be equal. In other words, equity suggests to serve in a way that allocates resources based on need, whereas equality means everyone gets the same, arguably not closing any gap that may exist. Through this lens than, how can we tailor limited resources in a way that can serve a broader audience, in the hopes to one day achieve equality?

Let’s think about these terms in a practical sense. Consider two 15-year-old girls at the same high school. Resources are both scarce and restricted. Each girl took the same class quiz out of 10 points. Girl A scored 3, and girl B scored 7. If we provided equal academic services for girl A and girl B, the gap in achievement would presumably not close. Instead, we could provide an equitable amount of services (providing services where there is most need) then girl A could likely benefit from an individual tutor 3 days a week, whereas girl B could benefit from small group instruction in the classroom 2 days a week.  Although this example looks at equity in a quantifiable sense (amount of days, ratio of instructor to student), it is also important to consider the quality of services being provided (strength or quality of instructor).

Perhaps the example above can be applied to philanthropy. Should we consciously think of the difference between equality and equity when grant-making? How do we give the direct support Girl A needs, while at the same time, support Girl B to accelerate and achieve at higher levels? How can we strike a balance with grant making?

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 was as Academic Dean of Costaño and the 49ers Academy. She has experience in the district, first hand (and she’s also a huge 49ers fan!).
- Avani has worked both as a teacher and in roles to support teachers—she gets the classroom, inside and out, day-in, day-out.
- As she’s learning about her new role and our work, one of her favourite questions to ask organisations is “what’s working and what’s not working in your relationships with your funders?”. It’s been great to see Avani asking this question and reminding us all to think about how to improve.
- She’s not afraid of the ambiguity that sometimes accompanies our work. We’ve already seen her dive in to research, conversations and meetings so that she can sort through the disparate opinions and ideas of what is needed and how we should operate.
- And finally, Avani can listen, really well. We LOVE that.

We hope you get to meet Avani at some point. She’s an asset to the team and will help to push forward the depth and deliberateness of our work in East Palo Alto—thanks, Avani!

In another month we hope/expect to have our Regional Portfolio Director join us, so another intro then…

Scale or Depth

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!

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. We figured we’d share a few of them, for anyone else who might find them useful:

- Avoid delivering information via more than two sources at any time. Try to minimise diluting the attention focus of your viewers by only having two methods of information delivery at once, eg voiceover + whiteboarding (other sources of info would be slides, video of the speaker, photos, etc..).
- Always start by showing the person speaking, even if it is only a picture, before cutting to other visuals that they may be talking over. Having a mental picture of the person speaking makes continued engagement with the information easier to maintain.
- Don’t feel like you have to create a whole new discussion community for students to contribute to, solely focused on the class. A great alternative, which potentially provides more value, is to encourage the students to listen in on and join existing communities already focused on class topics. This way their learning and participation is more likely to continue beyond the limitations and duration of the class.
- Encourage students to solve each other’s queries, before coming to the instructor or teaching assistant. Better for the learning process, and better for time management for larger classes. This can be done through an online forum or wiki.
- Create 1 minute videos with screen-share recordings to demonstrate how to navigate the syllabus, find resources, use any tech platforms necessary. Break everything down. Model everything.

We’re still incorporating a lot of the advice we got yesterday. Hopefully some of it is useful for others out there.


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 a Pinterest 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.

Oprah (with a beard) for the Social Sector

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

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 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 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

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 Foundation, Mulago, Draper 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)

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

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.

Bespoke Learning

You’ve heard a little about my musings on SE education and its shortcomings. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and offer some concrete improvements.

What if a social innovation class were truly about outcomes above outputs? And not about grades or how many people launch ventures? What if it were focused on individualised answers? And each student developed a personal plan to become equipped with the right knowledge and experiences to tackle big problems? What if each person learned and came away with something entirely different? What if the course you wish were around when you were at university was real? The one that helps you figure out how to live your life of purpose?

We think we’re close. We’re designing a class that will be taught to a pilot group of students in August. The curriculum is still in its nascency, but it’s already different from what’s out there. Most classes are tailored to the core group of individuals who know they want to go out and start something. This class will be for the broader group of people who know they are serious about using their career–or an aspect of their professional skills–to contribute to the social sector in a variety of ways: part time or full time, volunteering, working or donating.

In brief, there are three parts:
- Overview of the full spectrum of social innovation,
- The three biggest pitfalls for social innovators,
- Putting the pieces together and developing your path to becoming an effective social innovator.

If you’re interested in participating in an online version of this class then email me, jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg, and I’ll let you know if/when we’re able to offer it publicly.

The Unimpressed

Today I received feedback on an event I was involved in organising and was emcee for last month. This is only the second year this event has been held and the first time I’ve emceed anything, so I was very personally invested and anxious that it was a success.

The feedback fell in to 3 camps:

- Cheerleaders (majority), who had a great time at the event and gave us good/great/brilliant reviews across the board,
- Supportive critics (minority), who obviously thought the event was a success but a portion of their feedback was critical, very valid, and useful to learn from,
- And, the unimpressed (anomalies), who gave feedback that was negative.

Of course my attention went straight to to two negative reviews… One attendee rated the event as poor, and another provided feedback that my emceeing was ‘weird’.  I’m not entirely sure what she meant by ‘weird’, or why the event was ‘poor’ to the other guy, but my initial reaction was, ‘you’re both wrong, everyone else thought it was great!’. I wanted to find out who they were to ask them why and what we did wrong. Maybe they misunderstood our intentions and goals of the event. I wanted to know why they didn’t think we were good/great/brilliant, like the others.

Their opinions were totally valid and their conclusions reflected their experience of the event. From where he was sitting the event did not meet his expectations, and from her perspective I was weird. Could I/we have done anything to change them? Possibly. After reading them a couple of times, I decided to put aside the negative reviews entirely.

I think this is an interesting issue for anyone seeking to gain favour/support/approval. There will always be people who don’t get it or don’t agree with you, or simply don’t like what you’re doing. This is okay. Everyone has their own unique perception and comes at life with their own biases and expectations.

I’m choosing to ignore these two reviews for the event. I think it’s often healthy for social entrepreneurs and non profit leaders to do the same. Hopefully the feedback is not as ambiguous as ‘you’re weird’, but not every funder/supporter/partner is going to jump on your bandwagon. When the PF does not jump on their band wagon, I’ve seen many SE’s handle this issue with grace. It is impressive.

Note the unimpressed, and then focus on your cheerleaders and especially your supportive critics. This is where it makes sense to spend time, energy and resources.

Big project

We’re creating a social innovation curriculum for BYU. Key take away, thus far? Creating a curriculum from scratch is both incredibly fun and incredibly hard work. Six huge whiteboards worth of scribbling, 3 books read, 10 other curricula reviewed, and countless hours worth of internet research/article reading/framework sourcing.

Right now I’m looking for great resources/reading/exercises on “root cause analysis”. Any and all leads would be gladly accepted!

Progress is happening, and we have a deadline (course will be launched in late August), but a lot more needs to be accomplished before then.

Maybe once it’s done we’ll make it available online somehow…

If at first you don't succeed...

We shut down our web form last month. This was the page on our website where anyone could go to briefly tell us about their people, idea and impact. When we set it up it seemed like a great idea, where we felt like we could be entirely approachable, not ask for detailed proposals, and able to learn about new organisations that we would be a good funding fit for.

During the past year we’ve had about 100 organisations go to the page to tell us about their work. We’ve learned about many interesting and important models. However, we found we weren’t a good fit for any of them. We were spending lots of short periods of time figuring that out and then responding to people. They added up to a significant amount of time each week. And, even though we didn’t ask for much information from each org, each org still invested time in telling us their stories -with no significant results for them or us. It didn’t work.

As we talked about this we realised this time would be better spent going out and finding orgs that we do fit with, through channels that we *know* yield results. This method feels better too. We love technology and the way it connects people, but having conversations with real people, along with all the depth and dimension that comes with that, works better for us as we are very trust/relationship based in our approach. We know that our best matches come through referrals. Referrals from those who know us well and know an org well -enough to see a strong potential and mutual fit.

So, we’ve taken down our web form. And the time we were spending on fielding, researching and responding to web leads we are now spending on deliberately building relationships with those around us who can make recommendations to us (a lot of the time this is other funders). We’re not trying to be unapproachable or close our doors to new ideas and organisations. We just know that our ratio of time spent to fits found will improve by focusing our efforts on things that we know work. We’re going back to more of our ‘beating the pavement’ approach.

I’d love to hear from practitioners and funders on this. Practitioners, what’s your take on this? Have you seen other effective ways of funders remaining open to new conversations? Funders how have you navigated this issue? Did you come to different conclusions?

A Simple Idea

A group of BYU student leaders involved in building social innovation on campus have come up with a fabulously simple tool: Changemaker Maps.

They realised that every new student who came through the Ballard Centre’s doors (centre for social innovation on BYU’s campus), had to sit down and have the same conversation with a student leader or a staff member to get them oriented. They were essentially communicating the same information to many students again and again as new students tried to figure out where they could do to be involved, what social innovation classes they could take that would fit with their major, and what the possibilities were for them at the intersection of their field of learning and social innovation. So the student leaders created Changemaker Maps, which now sit in hard copy form at the entrance of the Ballard Centre, as well as online.

Each map is designed for students from a different discipline or college on campus (business, engineering, sociology, etc), includes a field overview, model in the field, listings of on-campus clubs and orgs to get involved with, as well as internships, resources and classes to explore.

Simple in design and content. Effective in helping orient many new students to come.

It’s not necessarily the most novel or groundbreaking idea, but absolutely useful in this and probably many other situations. We all know that the information most people need for any given task is already out there, but it’s breaking down the barrier to access, or creating more intuitive organisation of that information that makes all the difference to people actually getting that information they need.


I think about empathy quite a lot, both in the context of my own ability to feel empathy for others, and the context of philanthropy at the PF, where we see high or low levels empathy have dramatic effects on society and its problems. Increasingly it seems clear that a lack of empathy is the root of most inequality, mis-treatment, or injustice in our world. So is it possible to have too much empathy?

A while ago I was taught a technique meant to be used to alleviate intimidation or nerves from public speaking. It involved a mental projection of white wings on to the backs of everyone in the audience, and thinking of everyone as an angel. Each angel trying to learn, grow, get through the day, deal with problems and figure out life. It’s basically an equalising visual. One day I was practicing this projection technique while I went for a run. Every person I passed on the pavement or pulling out of their drive way I pictured with their angel wings and tried to imagine why they looked happy, sad, bored, tired, excited, etc. A couple of blocks from my house I came across a young boy who had fallen badly off his bike. He was injured and crying. People had gathered, the police arrived and an ambulance had been called. I wasn’t needed as a problem solver in that situation, so just watched for a few moments as people exhibited care, concern and did what they could to help him. Behind the scene, I noticed two women with small children walking towards the boy. They were happy and laughing, obviously oblivious to what was going on. As they approached the scene the injured boy cried out in pain. One woman’s countenance immediately and entirely changed. All thought of her conversation with her friend disappeared and she ran to the boy screaming his name. It was clear the injured boy was her son.

I left the scene, got home and recounted the story to a friend. I burst in to tears as I told them about the woman. It was strange. There was no blood or tragedy. The boy would surely be fine. But for the moment I was focused on the mother, I had felt what she had felt. And it was emotionally overwhelming. I haven’t tried that mental projection technique since then.

Empathy is exhausting. We couldn’t feel what other people feel all day, every day and be productive. We would be constantly emotionally drained, and never get anything done. We suppress our ability to empathise for a reason.

However, on regular occasions it also seems clear that my and others’ levels of empathy are too low. I read about injustices and terrible wrongs being done to real people, and then go and eat my lunch. We all watched with disbelief the Youtube video of the toddler who was run over and then ignored by passers by. I truly believe I and society would be healthier if we all cultivated higher levels of empathy. It seems that most problems and issues are caused by or significantly escalated by a lack of empathy.

Empathy is what drives us to care and act on behalf of others. It makes for healthy and loving relationships, it stimulates good deeds, and often moves strangers to acts of heroism. It is the motivating force behind social entrepreneurs and philanthropy. It is a force for good.

So what is a healthy level of empathy? I’m not sure there’s a way to articulate or quantify that, but we need more of it.

PF Ticker

For your interest, a small grab bag of numbers from the PF over the last two months:

Grants 29 (programmatic and family giving)
Board meetings 1
Calls 82
Meetings/site visits/events 53
PF team house points earned 16

I’ll probably do another grab bag of #‘s soon, and perhaps delve in to a little of what the numbers reflect/where they come from. I was reading about/looking at Nicholas Feltron’s annual reports and getting inspired. The discipline and beauty his reports reflect is inspiring. Something to aspire to.

A Maturing Movement

In Summer of 2008 I was one of Ashoka U’s first interns. At that time Ashoka U was basically a bunch of half formed concepts and ideas on Post It notes on an Ashoka office wall in Rosslyn. Over the last 4 years I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ashoka U develop in to a thriving network of university campuses, each actively and strategically building social entrepreneurship on their campus. Collectively the network is pushing the current limitations of SE experiential learning, curriculum and research development, and they come together once a year to share all the insights and lessons they learn in doing so. The annual Ashoka U ‘Exchange’ was last weekend. Representatives from 100 campuses (inc. Stanford, Marquette, USD, Harvard, Thunderbird, BYU, Brown, NYU, to name just a few) met at ASU in Tempe, AZ for two days of deep discussion on the very niche subject of social entrepreneurship and higher education.

Despite being at least loosely connected to Ashoka U since its inception, I’m still surprised by the order of magnitude that the gathering grows by each year. This time around representation from several of the attending campuses included university presidents, provosts and deans. And in addition to faculty, admin, students and social entrepreneurs, there was representation from the US Dept of Education, Innosight, and IDEO. The community is flourishing. People are paying attention to what’s being shared at the Ashoka U Exchange and want to be part of the dialogue.

Coming from the even more niche position of working for a foundation funding and building a SE program, I liked what I began to see in terms of practical information sharing. There were other individuals there in very similar positions to me, as well as those who hold similar perspectives on how SE education should and could work in the future -normally finding those people would be akin to a needle in a haystack situation. I’d love to see the Exchange facilitate truly efficient knowledge sharing. This is a problem most conference models find challenging.

One of the most marvelous moments of the weekend went unnoticed by almost everyone. I saw a young student coyly approach one of the social entrepreneurs who had presented at the TEDx the evening before. She had noticed a quiet moment when he wasn’t engaged in discussion and looked approachable. I overheard pieces of the conversation as she complimented his TEDx talk, expressed admiration for his work, asked a couple of questions and asked to share information to get in contact later on. The beauty of this interchange was that it was incredibly real and important to her at that moment. It was clear she had just chosen herself a new, and carefully selected, role model. Her new role model was excited enough about her education and potential as a social innovator to respond warmly and genuinely. I have no doubt that that moment is one that will shape her future, because I’ve had one or two just like it that shaped mine.

In all honestly, in past years the Ashoka U Exchange has been something that was a ‘nice to attend’ rather than a ‘must attend’. After this year it’s going to be one of the very few conferences I will put on my 2013 calendar as soon as they announce the Exchange dates. I’m going back next year for the practical knowledge sharing and genuine relationship building it is beginning to effectively provide for those involved in this niche but growing arena. However, a core reason I will be attending again is I know wonderfully important inflection points of all sizes will be created; points which strengthen our collective belief and ability to create and support social innovators of the future.

Another Social Media Experiment

We decided to try out Pinterest.

There’s so much ‘stuff’ that comes across our desks and inboxes that could be useful to someone, so we’ve been looking for a good way to share cool things we find and see. Enter Pinterest.

Most people use Pinterest to share food, interior design ideas, or clothing and styling they like. It’s a great way for a person to build a comprehensive picture of their personality, taste, and their own individual brand… Perhaps also for an organisation like the PF.

So what are we sharing? Well, we love insightful commentary and articles on SE and philanthropy, genius products for society, and great short films. So that’s what we’re pinning. As well as social innovation job postings, volunteer opportunities and a bunch of other stuff.

Like our dabbling with Twitter and other social media, there’s no big strategic plan here. It seems like a good, useful thing to do, so we’ll give it a try for a while and see if you like it and find it useful. And hopefully it’ll also be a good way for people to get to know us at the PF.

See you on Pinterest!

An Unusual Drop Off

Ten minutes ago, a man just walked in to our office. He was wearing a slightly weathered Panama hat and kind of looked like he’d stepped right off a sailing boat in the Caribbean. He pulled out a bright blue padded envelope. ‘This is for Dave Peery’.

Dave was sitting opposite me at the time, so the guy swiftly handed Dave the envelope and hotfooted it out the door. The blue envelope had snowflakes on it and was marked with a black sharpie: ‘Private and Confidential’. Given the unusual drop-off and the intriguing presentation we were both pretty anxious to see what was inside. It was a printed slide deck pitch for a youth organisation seeking funding. We can only assume the anonymous delivery man was the founder of the org.

I’m not suggesting this is how everyone get in touch with us, but this definitely wins the award for most mysterious first impression. And we will, of course, get back to them.

Impact Investing

I realised today that we never blogged about our impact investing -or social investing. A new tab appeared on our website a few months ago, which we still need to populate with some descriptive text, and that was about all we did to announce the beginning of our impact investing. There was a little bit more to it than that, but still not any intense planning or strategising. We’re not aiming to build a big portfolio, and if anything our impact investments may just merge with our other portfolios.

Here’s a little more on our decision to start impact investing, from a recent blog post with Social Velocity:

“Nell: The Peery Foundation is one of few foundations that do mission-related investments. How did you decide to move into that realm and what do you think holds other foundation back from MRIs?

Jessamyn: Our primary function is to support and serve the social entrepreneurs we work with. We try to keep our funding as flexible as possible. Peery Foundation funding is generally unrestricted and the structure of a grant is often co-crafted with the entrepreneur. We have come to realize that entrepreneurs with differing business models, or at differing life-cycle stages, need different types of capital. Once we believe in a SE and their model for addressing poverty we want to always be open to providing the type of capital that they need at the time they need it.

We’re still at an early stage in developing our capacity to provide debt and other funding outside of philanthropy. In our philanthropic funding we’re not paper heavy and our agreements are very trust-based. It was definitely daunting to explore this new realm of traditional investment due diligence and contractual agreements. So far we’ve found the kind of support we need to help us make the leap fairly painlessly through the Toniic Network, and from sources such as Silicon Valley Community Foundation and University Impact Fund, and still feel like we’re able to retain our low-paper, trust based partnership approach to the extent that makes sense.”

Here is the full interview on the Social Velocity website, which covers a few other topics too, like social media and transparency.

The love-hate Salesforce ratio

We’ve been using Salesforce for a while now. Some days it fills me with hope for a future filled with cool useful stuff our organised data will help us discover. Others it makes me want to throw my computer out the window. More often than not it’s been the latter.

Today was one of those rare hopeful days with Salesforce (Sf). Lanee and I just got off the phone with our new Sf consultant who is about to do a second round of Sf configuration for us. And after talking with him I am hopeful about reversing the Sf love-hate ratio.

We will know more in the new year.

I think we might be teaching social entrepreneurship wrong

(On second thoughts I’d rename this “I think we’ve got SE education wrong”)

Many schools begin their social entrepreneurship education with an intro to social entrepreneurs, teaching students what SE is and exposing them to various social entrepreneurs and the amazing solutions are they come up with. “Look how cool SE is!”, “You can change the world too!”, are the general messages reinforced.

The natural next step is a social venture business plan competition or a venture creation class. This is the way I began learning about SE, and know from first hand experience that in many ways this is great -it encourages students to think more deeply about a specific solution and sort through the myriad of details necessary to come to viable solution to a social problem. However, for a couple of reasons, I don’t think this is the best way of going about SE education.

In my opinion, this approach does a significant amount of disservice to students. They are encouraged to come up with an effective solution to a social problem, write the business plan, and launch their venture, in only a semester or two. No wonder so many ventures fail or struggle to find funding. Firstly, most students interested in SE aren’t entrepreneurs and know that -they then struggle to find where they fit and can contribute. Secondly, in general the entrepreneurial students don’t yet have a deep understanding of these extremely complex problems, or the highly developed and entrenched systems in which they are found. Yes there are a few break-out, star solutions produced by young and recently graduated SE’s, but for the most part the truly impressive SE’s whose solutions have potential to scale to the size of the problem, are those who have years of, often highly specific, experience. And perhaps have spent years wrestling with or coming to the right solution.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t start ventures if they aren’t going to be world changing ideas, or even if they will fail as ventures. I think there is enormous value in learning from a real start-up experience. What I am saying is this:

We need to set a more realistic timeline for students; for social entrepreneurs and social innovators. You don’t have to graduate and start a world changing venture or immediately get the dream job. In fact the social innovation field, and you, might be better off if you don’t. You’ve heard of patient capital? I’d like to argue we need more patient changemakers. Take your time. If this really is a life commitment, deliberately build yourself in to the person with the potential to meet the magnitude of the job.

More on this later…

Someone Else Implementing a Brilliant Idea -Part 2

Here’s the latest update from our friends implementing a self-directed reporting process. See previous blog posts here, and here.

“We put together a quarterly report on our work in Haiti for Q2, just as we’d done for Q1. But this time we also put together a Keynote presentation and scheduled a Webex call so that people could hear us talk about the work and expand upon it in ways that a powerpoint can’t do on its own. We all congratulated ourselves on a job well done - it was concise, it was informative, it was entertaining - and sent out a copy of the presentation. We just regretted not having recorded the audio version but figured we could do that the next time.

Of course… it turns out we only had a handful of people who dialed in to the call/presentation, in fact I think we had more internal staffers on it than outside participants. Ultimately, given everyone’s busy travel schedules and the fact that getting everyone in one room at once represented a considerable (human) investment on our part, we decided that for the next update - Q3, out next week - we will just be sending out a PDF version of the original-style document. So maybe simpler was better.

We’re not averse to doing another presentation, we just want to make sure it was worth our while. Worth anyone’s while, really. And if we’d gotten a check in the mail for some general operating support as a result of someone’s total confidence in us, we might have changed our minds again! But at present, I think that’s all that we, at our limited capacity, are able to do.”

Interesting. It’s still early days for this org, but it seems that the value of one reporting system is not as cut and dry as it might initially look. One of the reasons I thought this concept, of one report and one reporting call, made sense was that relationships could be built amongst the funders of an organisation.

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking a little about this when I’ve been on conference calls. Interaction and audience participation is really hard to cultivate in a group conf call setting. And that’s when people do in fact remember to dial in to the call. Has anyone cracked this puzzle? Are there specific things that can be done to ensure people 1) value the call enough to be sure they will dial in, and 2) have the right set up for meaningful and productive discussion? Or do you still end up following up personally with everyone after the call?

As always, comments and ideas are welcome.

Dream Funder


For a few months we were pretty sure we were giving up on our blog. We didn’t think the time put in to writing posts produced enough value or usefulness. However, after a few conversations at the Opportunity Collaboration last month we’ve decided to get back on the wagon.

At the Opportunity Collaboration I led a dinner discussion on what makes an ‘ideal funder’. As you might imagine, we had lots of eager participants all ready to contribute to painting a picture of a great funder. There were grant seekers, grant makers, and philanthropy consultants at the table, drawing flowcharts, cartoons and writing lists. The discussion was broad and extensive (see word cloud above), but boiled down to 4 main points. So here, in the words of a group of thoughtful Opp Collab delegates are the top 4 characteristics of an ideal funding relationship:

- Trust
- Transparency
- Thoughtful flexibility
- Partnership

I’d love to hear specific stories and instances of funders demonstrating these characteristics. How does a funder demonstrate they trust you? In what way do you want funders to be transparent? Can you share examples of funders being thoughtfully flexible? What does a partnership with a funder look like?

Concrete examples will help us and other funders take list of nice, but abstract, words and figure out if and how we can put them in to action. This is about sharing best practices, not recognising specific people or organisations, so please keep your description general (no program officer/funder names).

Thanks, in advance of taking the time to type.

Someone Else's Brilliant Idea #2

We just offered to make intros/recommendations to 7 different funders/supporters on behalf of one of our SE partners. This doesn’t happen every day, so how did it occur?

It was check in time for one of our Global Partners this week. They sent us over internal materials (already prepared, not specific for us) for review before the call. One of the documents was an asset map -a full list of all the potential and current asset providers on the org’s radar. Sending this was a very smart move.

It’s only the second time we’ve had a SE send us their asset map in full -often times partners highlight a few key relationships they are focusing on building, or give us a verbal run down of the funders they are preparing proposals for. A full asset map lays it all out there: Organisation, Primary contact, Deadline, Current status, Funds expected, Likelihood for success, etc. It included both current and potential supporters, financial and non financial supporters. We had a complete picture of who this organisation had talked to, who they decided it was not worth talking to, and who they were currently talking with. We also saw who they had approached but had not been a fit.

As a funder who adamantly believes in the missions of the organisations they support, wants to be supportive beyond simply cutting a cheque, and is operating with a lean team, this information is huge. We looked down the list and immediately saw a bunch of people in the ‘high likelihood’ category, with whom the Peery Foundation has strong enough relationships with that we’d be happy to make a recommendation. Some of those people are folks that the SE did not know we knew -they would never have known to specifically ask us for a connection to them. Sharing everything helped us see what was most needed (that we might not previously have been aware of) and thus where we could really help.

It’s also impressive from a funder perspective. We have a greater belief in this SE’s self-awareness, level of strategic thinking and relationship savvy.

I’m trying to think of situations where you wouldn’t want to share this info… but if you have funders that you trust and who trust you then it might be worth sharing your full asset map with them. You never know what networks they’ll be able to open up for you.

Confessions of a Program Leader

Earlier this month Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation hypothetically asked, what if foundation heads and program officers got fired for lack of impact? It was an interesting question to ask and a provocative way to think about keeping ourselves accountable to what should be our ultimate goal: impact. Though, obviously, easier said than done. But this got me thinking, what else should I get fired for? Or what else would/should our partners/grantees fire us or other funders for if they could…? Probably the litany of bad philanthropic practises out there.

Confession time… Over the past few months I made some classic mistakes: Over communicated enthusiasm, jumped the gun in suggesting a meeting, and confused someone over our investment criteria. This past week I made a different one: Under communicated on a no (almost unavoidably, because sometimes it’s a million tiny things rather than 3 distinct reasons you can put in a bulleted list).

I think with this latter mistake I perhaps compensated slightly by a offering a follow up call which they took me up on -but you’d probably have to ask them if that helped or not.

And on the other stuff… It is really hard not to communicate personal enthusiasm for an idea when you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but your not sure if it’s not a fit for the fdn. And really hard to communicate a ‘no’. And really hard to be crystal clear about a criteria when you’re actually still developing it.

These are not excuses to hide behind. I suppose my point is to simply say, it can be tricky. And we take those tricky things seriously and take time to try our best to get them as right as we know how. There are absolutely some things we can learn from advice/research/peers. Yet, with many of the really important lessons, I’m not sure how a young foundation can figure these things out unless we are trying, sometimes failing, and hopefully quickly iterating to find a good solution. The ideal being: ‘Only make new mistakes’.

We’re still learning. There are still a lot of perhaps unavoidable mistakes that are new for me/us. And so I’m still getting some things wrong. I apologise if you’re ever on the receiving end of a ‘learning moment’. Kevin Starr, please don’t fire me yet…

Someone Else Implementing a Brilliant Idea

A few weeks ago I wrote about VisionSpring’s funder reporting process. The week after the post went up I received an email from a manager at an organisation that was just about to make a similar shift. They wanted to move from reporting individually to each of their funders -according to the reporting frameworks each of those funders required, to creating one dashboard of the organisation’s own metrics, inviting all their funders to take part in one reporting discussion. For more on the process see my previous post.

We realise that this is not a small decision, and a scary leap to take. I asked the org if they would mind sharing this journey, their motivation, trepidation, hurdles and hopefully success. Here is part one, as they begin this transition:

“As a small nonprofit, we often feel like we are beholden to the whims and vagaries of our funders and partners. This usually means that we conform to their reporting schedules and geographic and programmatic preferences, but oftentimes it signals a positive, and leads us to new opportunities, or affords us the chance to look at our work from a different, but equally meaningful, perspective. We are pleased to have been able to work with outside experts in monitoring and evaluating our programs, but in all honesty can also feel a little schizophrenic when working with some funders who exact strict and demanding reporting of us, while others sign over grant monies without so much as a follow-up email.

We decided, as an experiment, to take matters into our own hands (inspired in part by the Peery Foundation blog post on nonprofits’ self-reporting activities): in addition to the donor-mandated reporting for one of our larger programs, we developed a presentation that we plan on updating quarterly, sharing with all of the supporters - both financial and otherwise - of the program. In fact, we plan on opening it up to anyone interested in our work, and will hold quarterly conference calls in which we review the presentation, answer questions and - most importantly - respond to many queries all at once. This will mean a tremendous time saver for us, and hopefully will instill confidence in our network of supporters, both in our ability to do our work well and in our belief in evaluating ourselves on an ongoing basis. We’ll see how it goes…”

I’ll be checking in with them again in a couple of months to see what pleasant or challenging surprises this process brings. 

We’d love to hear from you if you’re in a similar position. What difficulties are you facing? What benefits are you reaping?

A Peery Foundation Mohawk

A little while ago I developed the analogy of ‘getting a Mohawk’. In a past life I actually had a mohawk, so figured I was qualified enough to define it as: a decision that is risky, but not permanent, and helps you become more of who/what you want to be.

We are a young foundation. Small. Learning. Still admittedly getting some things wrong. But with aspirations to be better. Mostly we’re trying to figure out who and what we are as an organisation, and how we are uniquely situated to be most effective in our support.

On a fairly regular basis we get a mohawk. We make decisions and try things out that involve risk, but that aren’t irreversible. Things that help us figure out what we are and how we best operate. Sometimes we talk about big mohawks with spikes and colours, and then realise they aren’t right for the moment. We don’t go through with all of them. Mostly we get small mohawks. But it is this openness to experimentation and thoughtful iteration that makes the PF an exciting, and potentially more effective, organisation to work within.

One small current mohawk: This year we’re going to have a social entrepreneur check-in with our social entrepreneurs. Sounds strange? Let me explain.

With each of our partners we aim to have quarterly or semi annual check-ins. We discuss how they are doing with their milestones, what their current challenges are, and find out if and how we can further help them. Neither Dave nor I will be the primary contact for check-ins with the PF for our Global Portfolio partners in 2011. Instead the check-ins will be with one of their own; a social entrepreneur.

One of our partners and advisors, Martin Burt (founder of Fundacion Paraguaya), has been working with us on our international due diligence, providing deeper insights in to the challenges and opportunities of global models. This year as we are not anticipating growing our Global Portfolio, and so not having international due diligence to perform, Martin has agreed to act as our quasi international program officer. He has a strong grounding in the PF’s process and networks as we’ve worked with him over a number of years in various capacities, and he performed due diligence on many of our current portfolio members, so already has a good grounding in many of their organisations. We’re hoping that our partners will feel even more comfortable talking through issues with him -as a peer practitioner- but also that he will be able to give them more useful advice and support as they discuss issues that he may have come up against and worked through himself at some point.

There are risks associated with trying this. Concerns we’ve already thought about are issues of continuity, effective communication through another layer of conversations, capturing and sharing Martin’s insights, etc. We’re still fine tuning how exactly it will work. Dave and I will not be stepping back completely from the Global portfolio, and we need to figure out how each of our partners sees something like this working for them. Some may opt out.

At the end of the day if it doesn’t work, it’s not a permanent decision. But we hope this mohawk will help us continue to learn. That’s how we’ll find a better way to do things and the best way for us to support our partners.

Ashoka U Exchange

This past weekend I was in North Carolina at Duke for the Ashoka U Exchange. Here’s the blog post I wrote for Ashoka U’s blog on the value the Exchange had for funders:

If you’re a funder working with a university to support them building a social entrepreneurship program here are my top three reasons you should go to Ashoka U’s Exchange next year.

1. Become Informed and Useful

Funding and supporting university based leaders is a whole different ball game to funding social entrepreneurs. There are complexities, challenges and opportunities that come along with a university setting and can be discouraging or even debilitating if you’re not smart about recognising and understanding them. As funders in hands on situations we can be distracting with tangents we *think* might be useful for the university to pursue, or we can be value add -aware of the specific decisions and actions most crucial to establishing a social entrepreneurship (SE) program at a higher education institution. Attending Ashoka U Exchange with representation from multiple stakeholders from the team was a great move for learning together and being uniformly informed.

2. Build Brand

If you’re supporting the creation of a SE program then chances are you want that program to be renowned for excellence in the area of SE education. A reputation is, of course, made up of many components. One of which is building a brand. The Ashoka U network consists of the pioneers of the field as well as the many new campuses serious about embedding SE in to their campus culture and curriculum. The field of SE education is being built here. There is no better place to begin to get your name out there and recognised for what you’re accomplishing. And with this crowd the best way to get your name out there is to share openly and freely ideas, models and successes.

3. Reach Critical Mass

Though the majority of funders will primarily be focused on building SE education at the institution(s) they partner with, ultimately we’re all involved in this because we want to see SE and changemaking embedded in education everywhere. This will only happen as a critical mass of universities lead the way in establishing excellent SE programs, demonstrating that the workplace and the world needs more students to be better prepared to solve problems. There are already many universities with SE programs and curricula, but until now their efforts have been, for the most part, independent of each other. With Ashoka U’s ability to create a network, recognise elements of excellence, and highlight effective campus programs they are building a movement.

Full disclosure: I briefly worked with the Ashoka U team prior to joining the Peery Foundation.

Recidivism or Redemption

Four statistics:

- The national recidivism rate is 60%.
- It costs an average of $48,000 per year to keep one person incarcerated.
- Hudson Link has a 0% recidivism rate.
- Each year their 46 released graduates stay out of prison New York States saves $2.2M.

Pretty compelling metrics, huh?

Last week we were at BYU for the launch of the Peery Social Entrepreneurship Program. One of the events held was an exclusive screening of a film made by BYU alum Tim Skousen. ‘Zero Percent’ is still an unfinished film so we were not seeing the final cut, but I was already impressed with the subject matter and the masterful way in which is was presented. This is not an area the Peery Foundation works in, but my dad works in a prison and we’ve had many Sunday afternoon conversations about the importance of effective education inside prisons.

The film follows a group of men in Sing Sing maximum security prison taking part in the Hudson Link program. It tells their stories, observes their progress towards achieving their associates/bachelors degrees, and most importantly depicts repentance and redemption. The men and women who take part in the program are transformed and supported to lead more constructive and meaningful lives, through the challenge of higher education.

No agenda for this post. Just wanted to highlight some obviously important work. For more info check out this article from the New York Times. And when “Zero Percent” is finished and gets released put it on your to-watch list. It’s a testament to the power of education as a tool for redemption.

Someone Else's Brilliant Idea

Here’s a great idea that we’ve been able to see in action and are now recommending to anyone who will listen!

In 2009 VisionSpring, began to let their funders know that they would be hosting reporting calls on a quarterly basis. They would prepare their slide deck report, with updates on their key metrics and organisational developments, send it out to their funders, and present it with commentary on the conference call. All the funders who called in got the most up to date information, and could then ask questions about the report or other things not included in the report. VisionSpring also asked for feedback on what else people would like to see in the report.

This was great for a number of reasons: 1) VisionSpring answered the common questions only once for everyone to hear, 2) we all got to connect with each other as funders with common priorities, 3) we got to learn from each other’s line of questioning, 4) everyone stayed on schedule. It saved us all time, but especially the VisionSpring team, who hopefully got to spend less time telling us what they did and more time doing what they do: reducing poverty through preparing Vision Entrepreneurs. I asked Malini Krishna, VP of Business Development for their perspective on other benefits or challenges this process brought VisionSpring.

“From VisionSpring’s perspective, the overall value of the quarterly dashboard calls is efficiently communicating our operational progress and collecting feedback to strengthen our programs and fundraising, which is critical to a small, resource constrained organization. I think the biggest challenge for VisionSpring with the calls is ensuring we have all the data in place to ensure we are transparent to our major donors. However, the time invested in this process is well worth it with the benefits we gain. Some of our funders have required/requested additional reporting to meet our grant terms, but we are usually better prepared because of this consistent communication and can better plan for additional presentations.”

There you have it. An organisation, for the most part, dictating the reporting terms for its funders. More efficient, more effective, perhaps even more fun. If you already do this/or decide to give it a try let us know how it works for you.

Piloting the Future of Education

In a past life I was a Montessori Directress. The founder of the Montessori Method was Maria Montessori, who designed her education methodology for the children of Rome’s slums. A lot of the Montessori method revolves around children being their own teachers, and becoming self-directed learners. The directress (teacher) prepares an environment where the students can go at their own pace and collaboratively learn/teach one another. The directress observes the children, what work they are drawn to, keeps a log of their progress in each area of learning, and at times steers or encourages a child to try something they haven’t before or that might be an appropriate challenging next step. The directress is not occupying the position of primary vehicle of knowledge. She directs the learning and progress of the class or individuals as a coach or guide.

This morning we visited Covington School in Los Altos. It’s not a school we’d typically visit, as the kids there seem to have every opportunity and support that they might need. However, a very interesting pilot project is taking place in their 7th grade classrooms, and our friends at Innosight Institute invited us to go with them to see this exciting experiment in action.

In November 2010 Covington’s 7th grade Maths class began integrating the materials and learning platform of the Khan Academy in to their curriculum. The students utilise school Macs to log on to the Khan Academy learning platform to practice mathematical exercises at their own pace, in the areas they most need to currently be focusing on. Each child sees a ‘constellation’ of their current accomplishments in topics they have mastered, the ones they are currently working on, and also the topics that are suggested as their next areas to work through. They choose how to navigate their own learning. They set their own goals for each week and they see their progress and achievement at the end of each day and week. Each child works at their own pace during their ‘Khan Goals’ and ‘Khan Challenge’ time.

Where is the teacher in all this? Observing the whole class directly in the classroom, observing each child’s progress individually on the online teachers dashboard, and spending time with each child one-on-one reinforcing concepts that the teacher, through the dashboard report, can see they have been struggling with as they’ve worked through exercises. The environment is prepared for every child to direct their own learning at their own pace. Children struggling with a certain concept can spend the time they need to master it, without the whole class knowing they are repeating concepts. Children who excel in particular areas can learn and practice at an accelerated pace, without feeling self conscious or having to sit through disengaging reinforcement of things simple to them. Teachers no longer teach to the middle or bottom of the class, get an accurate picture of where each child’s strengths, struggles and enthusiasm lie (many children go home and log on to the Khan platform to continue doing exercises and challenges they enjoy and decide they want to master), and they get time to work one-on-one with each child every week.

I’m pretty sure Maria Montessori would be impressed with the use of today’s technological advances to reinforce the key principle of self-directed learning, and the development of a solution that has the potential to serve children in almost any circumstance, background or geography. It’s an exciting project because of the extremely broad potential for application and the fairly low barrier to adoption for schools, teachers, families and after-school programs in practically any part of the world.

My current understanding and ability to explain this pilot is nascent. For more info check out the blog that the Khan Academy, the teachers, AND students are using to share their experience.

Hands On

The depth to which we are involved with each of our partners varies. Some organisations are newer and have a list of things we can help them find/do, others are very well established and for the most part we just get out of their way and watch with awe. Each partnership is defined by the situation and needs of the organisation.

One unique partnership is with BYU (Brigham Young University). Before I joined the PF, Dave and the Peery family had noticed an opportunity at BYU. A number of the family are BYU grads and they were very familiar with the student body who are highly entrepreneurial, have diverse international experience and language skills, and firmly believe in the school’s motto of ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve’. It’s obvious, right? Social Entrepreneurship fit! While there were a few solid SE activities already established on campus, they recognised an opportunity to coordinate the existing efforts, as well as build a robust program that would serve students and faculty across campus more completely.

Currently, this is what about 40% of my time is spent on, as we prepare to launch the program. This will dramatically decrease over the next year but for now BYU is the one partner we are in communication with almost daily. I’m a BYU grad myself, so it’s extremely gratifying to be able to continue to build what I wanted to see while a graduate student there. I work with the program’s director, a founders group of professionals all volunteering their time to create the program, and many faculty and student leaders. As with most of what we do at the PF, it’s gratifying work -just in a different way.

The program will be launching in February, the week of the 7th. I’m pretty sure you’ll get to hear a little more about all the goings ons, then.

And if there are any funders out there working with universities already doing or currently thinking about doing a similar thing, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve learned quite a bit over the last couple of years we’ve been working on this partnership, and we are still trying to figure out how the relationship will change as the program becomes more established with time. Always open to learning/sharing.

Crowd Sourced Annual Review

As you probably know, we are a small shop and both relatively new to foundation work. There are many advantages to this situation. There are a few downsides too.

One downside is that it’s harder to get regular feedback from different perspectives on how I’m doing as a developing foundation professional. So I want to attempt to crowd source my own annual review. I’m hoping this will provide feedback on a variety of the roles I find myself playing, from all different angles.

If we worked together, interacted or you’ve observed me working at a conference, event, etc during 2010, I’d like to hear from you. The only stipulation is that you provide at least one thing I should keep doing that you saw in 2010 and one thing you suggest I should work on/try in 2011. Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section, or if you’re more comfortable emailing them then send to jessamynATpeeryfoundationDOTorg.

Many thanks, in anticipation of you taking time to do this. It will be a great way for me to figure out what I can work on during 2011 to be better at what we do.

How Should We Say No?

Last night I received an angry and frustrated reply to an email I had sent earlier in the evening. The entrepreneur it was from was highly critical of the decision of the PF to not fund his organisation, and the process used to come to the decision and communicate it.

Obviously the news was not what the entrepreneur wanted to hear. Though his email seemed to indicate that his reaction was also influenced by other situations and factors outside the PF’s interaction with him, a strong reaction like this is cause to look very carefully at what we do and how we do it.

The least fun part of my job is to let people know that the PF can’t fund them. Right now, I do this, on average, at least twice a week. Particularly when we’ve met the entrepreneur in person and begun some level of due-diligence it takes me a while to write those emails - usually about 30 minutes. Last night’s was no different as I tried to figure out the right level of clarity and explanation. I’m fairly confident that my response was candid, respectful and timely given the situation.

I’ve been doing this for just over 18 months - not long at all - and I’ve definitely gotten a few things wrong along the way, but these are the key points I’ve picked up so far:

1) Timely
Being timely with a response is fair and respectful. Sometimes you just *know* when you first visit a website that we aren’t going to be a fit. Other times you *know* half way through the due diligence process that you’ve found a deal-breaker. But there’s a definite point where you know you have to say no. Though often it would be easier to leave the no until another day, generally as soon as you’re sure is when it’s good to say so.

2) Clear
Clarity prevents misunderstanding, wasted time/energy, and continued time investment. Being absolutely clear that it’s a ‘no’ might seem harsh at first, yet if it prevents organisations using time and resources to continue pursuing funding that isn’t possible then that’s got to be better for everyone. This is something I’m still figuring out and attempting to determine what clarity really looks like in individual cases…

3) Respectful
I think people appreciate knowing that even though a funder may not be a good fit, they recognise and respect the achievements or value of the work the organisation is undertaking. Both of the above points add to showing the respect due to entrepreneurs we meet. And on top of that, infusing the due-diligence process itself with a respect for the time and capacity of the entrepreneur. For example, though each foundation/funder has a unique focus and criteria, the majority of things we look for are the same or very similar, so in most cases there is no need to request specifically created documents. Requesting documents as they have already been created either for the organisation’s own use, or for another funder (that they are willing to share) and then following up with more specific questions or a phone call to fill the gaps.

I think there’s a another key point around ‘usefulness’. Some of the funders we most respect leave all entrepreneurs better than they found them because of the diligence process and feedback. Yet, quite honestly, there are times when it is not constructive to go in to or list the entire reasoning behind why we’re not a fit for an organisation. So I’m still working on that one and how it best works.

So what do you think? Am I on the right lines? What other points are key to us interacting and communicating respectfully with entrepreneurs we talk with and conduct due-diligence on? We’d love your perspective from whatever angle of the situation you look at it.

Why Blog?

Dave just informed me we are launching our blog. There’s a slight twinge of panic, as I think about the expectation to verbalise something different or new or interesting about what we or I do each week. But mostly I’m excited.

One of the reasons I moved to CA to work with the Peery Foundation is that I knew every day would be different. Now you’ll get to hear a little of that. From the scintillating details of how we’re customising and adopting our Salesforce platform, to the unforgettable moments when I realise I’m working with my heroes on a day to day basis.

We’ll try to always be frank and straight forward. Let us know how we do on that, and do tell us if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about from the perspective of a young, and still very much learning, foundation. There’s no agenda here, except to tell our story in the hope that it’s either useful, amusing or inspiring for you. Enjoy!

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