Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Foundation of the Future...

Strong foundations of the future will show their age!

Healthy foundations, today, are striving to work with nonprofits, fulfill donors' goals, and ultimately work with community partners for results, as evidenced by some of our oldest American foundations, for example The Rockefeller Foundation.

How is this different? Foundations have become strategic. They are conducting their own independent studies to find best practices. They're sharing findings (for free); offering guidance to partners based on their successes and lessons learned; and community foundations, in particular, are offering new philanthropists 'how to' training. Community foundations are developing new philanthropists via modern philanthropic paradigms, determining what operations and policies are most effective, and ultimately moving philanthropy forward.

American foundations have done even more, especially in recent years. I entered a new career in the nonprofit sector in a difficult year, 2001. At a conference that I went to, that year, while chit chatting with a board member of another nonprofit about my being new to the nonprofit sector, she said, 'it's a great time for you to begin learning about fundraising'. I asked 'why'. She responded, 'there's nowhere to go but up'. After the 9/11 tragedy and the unrest it foisted onto the United States, the George W. Bush administration routed public services money from the federal budget to a, then, new war. By mid-2002, I saw in Seattle, firsthand, foundations picked up that financial support slack. They felt that burden but also the need in our community.

In recent years, healthy American nonprofits also learned from their mishaps and successes, have begun to understand the strengths gained in partnering with other nonprofits, avoided reinventing the wheel, and listened to their constituency (to understand what is needed, to know where nonprofits made errors, and to remain effective). They've also begun providing donors with reporting, programmatic and operational goals, transparency, involvement, an ear, and frankly - true partnership. Nonprofits' goal today? It is also ultimately effectiveness at mission-work.

OK, so today, we all mean well in our work.

There's more to learn. Foundations and nonprofit organizations' findings, best practices, partnerships, sharing, and communication have set apart the stronger, effective, American organizations from the others. Educated donors can begin to spot a spectrum in the quality of the various nonprofits they are considering to give to this fiscal quarter. Savvy nonprofits who do their homework can get strategic about whom they will partner with in their work.

Future foundations, floating in their space docks just above the African continent's stratosphere, will have the benefit of our field's best work in these (prior) years. Besides having a beautiful view, our foundation of the future will have a chance to be even more effective than we may be, today.

This post is a response to the January 2008 Giving Carnival hosted by New Voices of Philanthropy.

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