Friday, August 29, 2008

Wisdom of the Ages

"To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large, and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter" - Aristotle

With that I have finished preparing the documents for our first serious granting cycle. The learning curve has been steep on this one and I am grateful for the kindness and understanding of our applicants who have been willing to bear with me as I try to sort out how to do this well.

The materials and my recommendations are now in the hands of my employers and we will meet during September to work through the proposals and make decisions. All applicants should expect to hear back from us in some form by September 30th.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ignorant Board Members

I am learning quite a lot about the roles and responsibilities of board members. I'm realizing how very important an effective board can be to the long term work of an organization, and conversely, how crippling a poor board can be.
In evaluating grant applications one of the factors we consider is the effectiveness of the board of directors. In conversations with nonprofit leaders, board issues are often near the top of their frustration lists.
This blog post from the good people at Strive reminds me of the legal responsibly board members hold, that is rarely discussed it seems.
And by the way, why would any nonprofit not have someone designated to regularly blog on their behalf? It's an amazing way to keep your organization and your mission/vision in the minds of your constituency. Not doing so, when it costs only a little time and creativity, seems almost negligent.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fundraising Resource?

I seem to talk to a lot of Executive Directors of nonprofits who claim to enjoy fundraising. Without questioning their integrity, I doubt most of them. I suspect that what they really enjoy is talking about their organization, telling the stories of their team and the people they serve. When it comes to the moment when the actual asking for money part comes along I still suspect they lose a little enthusiasm. That's why there are people who make a better than living as fundraising consultants and trainers.

I just received an invitation to a free local workshop on fundraising from an US based group, Benevon. I can't vouch for them in any way, but I might be interested in checking out the introductory presentation if my schedule allows.

They also have a blog that I'm going to add to my google reader.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worth Reading

A quick list of websites and blogs that I find helpful:
Strive! is the best organization I've come across for helping boards learn to function in ways that don't drive themselves, staff, volunteers, donors, and clientele to desperate frustration. You should subscribe to their monthly GEMs and buy Jim Brown's book.

Mission Based Management by Peter Brinckerhoff keeps me thinking about how nonprofits can keep their focus in the midst of the daily realities of work.

Seth Godin's blog is updated pretty much daily and offers some innovative ideas about marketing that have the ring of both genius and common sense.

Open Hands is the blog of Mark Petersen from Bridgeway Foundation. Mark has been unfailingly helpful as we're getting Catalyst underway and he knows everybody.

I could give several more but this is a good start. And since it is hard to keep up with all of these I highly recommend Google Reader or some other tool that keeps you aware of updates.

Preparation and Spontaneity

Two contrasting episodes today:
1. Spent an enjoyable with Hugh Brewster of World Vision Canada's Partners to End Child Poverty program and Scott Jones from Micah House reviewing some material from the LEAP workshop that Scott and I attended with Hugh a couple weeks ago. LEAP is an intensive process in developing project designs that is based on a large amount of research and preparation. It is a major undertaking to complete their model, but one that will result in as reliable a design as can ever be hoped for.

2. Read this article from Gordon MacDonald on the importance and value of intuition in leadership. He emphasizes the need for acting with conviction at times even when the apparent reality may conflict with your inner sensitivity.

These represent a tension I feel in every leadership situation in which I find myself. When is it appropriate to invest significant time and effort in working through a carefully developed strategy and when should I take the risk of going with gut instinct?

I like what MacDonald says about developing a stronger sense of intuition. I also like Hugh's emphasis on doing proper diligence. I can think of times in my life when I regret not doing both.

Effective leadership is always a matter of existing within the tensions of each situation and acting with courage in light of the obvious and subtle pressures and risks. Those that get it "right" most often are most effective.

Whether the tensions are between more research/taking opportunity; respecting budget/acting in faith; pursuing the vision/caring for the people; or any of the other variations on the theme; ultimately leaders are often those who are willing to define the issue at hand and decide among the options with a willingness for responsibility.

In the best of situations we are able to do our preparation deeply and then rely on intuition to determine which of the choices to pursue.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Primer on Microfinance

Last week I recommended a book on microfinance. After a really good meeting on Wednesday with Opportunity International - Canada I was sent this article that breaks the idea down into a pretty manageable chunk while also exploring the edges of the approach.
Microfinance is going to be a key piece to our strategy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In the interest of honesty

It only seems fair to acknowledge here that I also have another blog where I post things that relate less to my role here at Catalyst. The curious can feel free to visit: Worth Doing Poorly.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gaining Perspective

Two books are strongly shaping our approach to our philanthropy as we enter our September funding cycle (draft proposals due August 15th):
Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises.
A Billion Bootstraps by Phil Smith and Eric Thurman, who have had ties to Opportunity International.

These two books, combined with the time we've spent getting to know Medical Ministry International, (and is anyone pushing Willie Hunter to write a book?) are giving us a vision for using our resources to bring lasting change to deeply poor communities.

Watch for a major revision to our website very soon that will explain this further.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Philanthropy Monopoly??

This from Fred Smith (who posts a lot of interesting articles on Facebook).
It raises some excellent questions about the role of foundations relative to those we desire to help. Obviously there is bound to be some question about the quality of the work done by the Gates Foundation. Just as there is criticism of Bono's work.
Regardless of scale all philanthropists need to consider how we use our leverage of research and resources wisely.
In one of my former roles, as a youth pastor, I used to tell the parents of the teens I worked with that I expected them to know their own child better than I did (which was true more often than not); but I was generally more knowledgeable about teens in general than most parents were (also usually the case).
The same may be true in this world. Over time I expect to become quite informed about the issues of nonprofits, relief and development, and particularly the role of leaders and leadership in those organizations. But I will never be more aware of the specifics of any of our resources or partners than they are. I need to bear that in mind.