June 23, 2011

Getting Results Sometimes Means Giving More Than Money

By: The Bridgespan Group

Earlier this week, I met with an experienced and thoughtful, but highly conflicted, philanthropist. She had found an organization that was highly aligned with her values and was getting good results from its programs. She was a committed and significant donor to that organization. She was excited about the opportunity to continue to invest in this nonprofit, and was also eager to engage with its leadership on ways that her donation could drive the greatest results. Unfortunately, she was beginning to feel that the organization wasn't terribly receptive to her questions and suggested approach to make the program even better.

In particular, she recalled a long discussion in which she was poring through the program's results with members of the nonprofit's leadership and other outside experts. She believed that the rich data set clearly indicated that the program was effective with certain groups of people, but less effective with others. In her mind, the clear next step would be to shift the program's focus.

She was glad that the group seemed (in the moment) to grapple with the important questions about changing the program design, and nobody disagreed on the facts surrounding the conclusions. The post-meeting follow-up was slow, however, and didn't fulfill the promise of raising and dealing with this controversial issue among the board and senior leadership. Through subsequent interactions with senior leaders, she received positive feedback on her clear-minded questions and thoughtful approach. But still, no action was taken.

There are clearly some principles and best practices for philanthropists who want to engage successfully with grantees. Many are detailed beautifully in a Center for Effective Philanthropy classic entitled More than Money—click for a summary.

But the hard reality is that she had followed many of these best practices. How would you advise her?

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