Yes I am typical
June 25th, 2007I have been consumed by community issues and the Foundation's work to address these issues. I've not had great success in collaboration in one of our major community initiatives as of late and it is increasingly frustrating. So for those people who represent our area nonprofit organizations who are tired of hearing about having to collaborate in order to receive funding, I feel your pain!
However, collaboration and the difficulties involved are also touching my private life! A double whammy! As a baby boomer, I am experiencing all the usual indicators of this aging generation. Surprising new "features" that accompany growing older as I look in the mirror, aches that didn't exist a week ago, and when did all the Hollywood set get so young?! But it is the relationship with my mom that is really difficult while collaborating with all involved.
My sister and I have been working for more than 18 months to assure that my 86 year old mother is safe, secure and comfortable after she experienced a health crisis last year that led to moving into a senior housing community. Her home is prepared for sale and of course this is not the best time in Michigan to be selling a private residence. However, we have no choice.
The difficulty is that members in my family have completely different communication styles and my mom is feeling isolated, out of the loop, frustrated, downright angry and does not understand why all of this is happening.
I truly feel like a typical baby boomer and while this entry does not have much to do with philanthropy, in truth it does. We have an initiative that is looking at how older citizens can experience meaningful work and activities to feel productive and frankly happy. As I reflect on trying to make new paths for seniors here in West Michigan, I think of how all of this could have had an impact on my mom.
I keep moving forward - collaboration is difficult and most often downright frustrating. I am optimistic that things will work out!
Continued learning from the "Stanford experience"!
June 18th, 2007It has been one week since the Stanford experience which as I think about it and process it, is increasingly significant. This past week has been one tough week. It has not been so much because of returning, but there have been some major disappointments and I have not had the time to really review everything from the Executive Program for Philanthropy Leaders. However, one experience that I did not write about previously stands out from my week at Stanford.
I am sure that some nonprofit leaders appreciate this Foundation and I am sure that some have been frustrated with us. One thing is certain, we are as fair as we can be and have a solid and proven process for making grant decisions. Marcia Rapp, VP of Programs, and her team are simply the best in the business - and I mean nationally if not beyond. I am biased I admit but one thing is certain, we do review our practices and processes continually and don't stand on the notion of "we've always done it this way".
One of the sessions at Stanford was the introduction of four exceptional nonprofit leaders who came in to give us a view of what their experiences have been working with foundations. The professionals had great things to say about their experiences with foundations and they had horrific experiences with foundations - major national/international ones and the ones closer to home. A particularly painful account but one that is repeated daily was listening to a story about an 18 month process working with a major unnamed private foundation program officer who encouraged the applying organization to look to a grant for $250,000. After asking for more and more information over the next year and a half, the nonprofit organization was eager to learn the results.
After what I consider to be an extraordinary and frankly dumbfounding amount of time, the Program Officer at that foundation reported back that a $25,000 grant would be made but the organization had to submit more information. I know what I would have done and said "keep your money". And how many nonprofits have felt that here with us I don't know.
What was truly appalling though was the story that in order to receive a grant, one of the presenters said that she was asked to get the program officer entry into an exclusive San Francisco restaurant. Her friends owned the restaurant and the program officer knew that. . . UGH!
Each foundation is different and we operate differently from the Frey Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, and all the other foundations in our community. One size does not definitely fit all.
A strong lesson - - - we are partners with this community and in particular the nonprofit community and I hope that the nonprofits know that!
And while I'm away . . .
June 8th, 2007As a middle aged woman who still dreams of the time in 1969 when I wanted to attend Columbia University in New York City to study how to change the world. . . you have to know that Stanford is a magical place. Nirvana? No - but pretty darn close! (I didn't attend Columbia by the way . . .sigh.)
We examined more indepth today about the imbalance of the social capital market and worked with our study groups to complete an industry analysis on one of our foundations. My study group was really tremendous! Our group is truly global. Our study group members are from Seattle, Jordan, Pittsburgh, Atlanta to Grand Rapids, Michigan - which as we all know in GR as "the center of the universe".
However, what I am reflecting on this evening after a day with the best and brightest minds in the business world matched with remarkable - and I do mean remarkable leaders - in the foundation world is how much we need to open ourselves to learn in the greater Grand Rapids community. Between yesterday's power exercise and today's understanding of the imbalance of the social markets, I wish that many more foundation and other leaders from the GR regional area were exposed to the ideas and thoughts conveyed by the business leaders here at Stanford.
Our community would benefit from people taking the time to think instead of reacting and conforming to the status quo. Unfortunately that does not happen a great deal. Hopefully - my optimism will return tomorrow!
Power - why are we so fascinated with it?
June 7th, 2007
Continuing the saga of attending Stanford's Executive Program for Philanthropy Leaders in Palo Alto and here's a brief description of our morning program on Wednesday, June 6th: Deb Gruenfeld from the Stanford Graduate School of Business is a - if not the - leading expert on power and she is a tremendous professor. It is something to get foundation leaders to come to terms with the "asymmetrical" imbalance of power relationships that we have with organizations who come to us for funding of proposals! I have to say that the exercise we did yesterday morning cast me in the light of a turncoat! Well not even in the "light of a" turncoat but actually the character who abandoned her roots! Dr. Gruenfeld organized a sophisticated group exercise entitled "Star Power" and essentially through luck during the first round we were given assignments to join one of three groups based on our scores from collecting and negotiating for chips that we all took from a simple lunch bag. Needless to say, I was a bit disheartened when my paltry sum led me to the low group identified with badges having red squares on them. The middle group was known by their blue circles and were actually physically elevated to the middle level of the lecture hall and the prestigious group - the almighty green triangles - held the highest position atop the room. We were then given six "bonus" poker chips per group and told to disburse them as we saw fit. Well - somehow - even though I didn't ask for this "honor" - I was given the six chips at the 11th hour in the hopes, though not fully articulated, that I would lift all the red squares out of the "pit" and make their dreams come true in the two other groups. My new individual total gave me entry into the green triangle group who were reluctant in their acceptance of me and they immediately told me that they had concocted a scheme to determine the two final winners of the game and yet we had two more rounds to go. During the second round I was told to NOT negotiate with anybody else and to stand with my arms folded. My reaction? And anyone who knows me from GR will smile at this - - - I said very loudly "I want to go back to the red squares, they are sweeter than all of you!" Two of the red group members tried to come up to barter for chips and I was torn but the triangles prevailed sending my two "former" friends pounding down the lecture hall steps - "you were supposed to help us but you turned your back on us!" Sigh . . . the game continued and taught us the dynamics of power relationships and how those of us in the foundation need humility in our work with organizations applying for funding and to remember that the tide could turn at anytime. After debriefing and an examination of my behavior and lots of laughter, our colleague Chee Koon Tan from Singapore's National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre summed it up best by reminding us about humility and why we are working as partners with our communities through foundations. She was the real winner of the day. So off I go with my tail between my legs . . . humbled. Good thing I'd say. Take a look at Mark Petersen's blog at http://markpetersen.wordpress.com/ - he's my colleague at the Bridgeway Foundation and he is MUCH younger than me and knows all the bells and whistles of blog entries with which I will become much more proficient once I return home! Power - don't abuse it - respect it and humility will win the day!
Who knew that I could learn new tricks?!
June 6th, 2007Okay - the title got your attention! I, along with fellow blogger Mark Petersen the Executive Director of the Bridgeway Foundation in Toronto, am participating in a week long Executive Education program at Stanford University for Philanthropy Leaders. This experience is nothing short of phenomenal. I have said to anybody within earshot, this is like going to a spa for the brain.
I am not trying to diminish the program's importance, but I am trying to convey its powers if you will. It is rare that any leader, let alone a leader of a foundation or other funding entity, can or will take the time to learn and be exposed to ideas, theories and proven concepts from world renowned leaders. The participants are just as impressive. They come from across the U.S. as well as from Jordan, Israel, Singapore, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. It will take awhile for me once I return to really process this experience.
However, my aforementioned blogging buddy has already a written a few entries on this experience so I need to catch up! I recommend that you refer to his blog at http://markpetersen.wordpress.com/.
We have been exposed to the thoughts and ideas of Jim Phills and Chip Heath who are not only Stanford Graduate School of Business professors and authors, but the co-directors of the Center for Social Innovation which publishes the journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) a highly read publication throughout our industry. Others who have presented thus far and engaged us in meaningful discussion - forcing us to think - include: Ray Fisman an economist from Columbia University, Tom Tierney, a renowned management and leadership expert who is the Chairman and Co-Founder of The Bridgespan Group, Bill Barnett, a Stanford professor who uses the unique blend of humor and brilliance as he skillfully guided us discussions regarding competitive and cooperative systems and Sandy Herz, an executive from the Skoll Foundation.
The key thing that has sunk in for me thus far has been the importance of the industry analysis which is borrowed from business principles and practices and has tremendous utility in the nonprofit sector. It is the discipline that teaches us how to analyze the industry in which we operate and focus in on factors such as rivals (which may seem quite out of place when considering the social sector), organizations/businesses/activities that may be considered as substitutes and/or complements, barriers to entry of that industry and much more. Considerations include the development of mission, vision, goals, positioning, etc.
Dry? Hardly! In fact, I can recall that when we were discussing the development of our strategies at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation two years ago that one of the trustees took exception to the fact that we had done an analysis of our competition thinking that we were trying to gain an upper hand in an industry that shouldn't be competitive. Well, I disagreed and we were able to move forward.
As the days progress I'll have more insights but now I am going to enjoy our next journey which is an exercise on Power and Relationships! So if the notion of competition in the nonprofit sector seems out of place, then imagine the impact of this morning's exercise! We have been "promised" some surprises!
P.S. - If you have never explored Stanford's campus, do yourself a favor and get out here to do so. It is simply gorgeous and an environment that nurtures learning. Whew - what a week thus far!