January 16, 2013

Monday Morning Checklists - Quick Guides for more Effective Philanthropy

How can you tell whether you’ve wrestled with a philanthropic question sufficiently to move on? If you can check many of these markers off your Monday morning to-do list, then you’re probably well on your way to giving smart!

The questions posed in these lists aren’t the kind you answer, once and for all. On the contrary, the odds are that you’ll find yourself coming back to one or more of them at various points (and in various combinations) throughout your philanthropic journey. And yet, you can’t ask questions forever; sooner or later you must make decisions. So how can you tell whether you’ve wrestled with a question sufficiently to move on? In our experience, each of these questions has some relatively clear indicators of progress. If you can check many of these markers off your Monday morning to-do list, then you’re probably well on your way to giving smart!

Am I Getting Better?

  • You can judge (even if you can’t measure) whether you, and your grantees, are making progress toward your goals.
  • You cast a wide net externally for information relevant to your fields of interest.
  • Your grantees would say that as a donor you help them get better.
  • You periodically seek feedback from your grantees about your own performance, including in ways that ensure their anonymity.
  • You can name one (or more) grants that didn’t work out as hoped and have shared the lessons you learned with others.
  • You’re in regular contact with at least a few people who challenge your thinking.
  • Over time, your philanthropy generates real results on society’s behalf: the people and/or the issues that you and your grantees seek to serve are clearly better off.

What Am I Accountable For?

  • You’ve been explicit with yourself and others about how much money, time, and influence you’re prepared to commit to a specific initiative.
  • Impartial but knowledgeable observers would say that the resources you intend to contribute are proportional to your strategy and the success you aspire to achieve.
  • You’ve explicitly considered and accepted the risks (strategic, secondary, and personal) associated with your strategy.
  • You’ve been crystal clear about what you are not doing.
  • Other people describe you as a donor who “walks the talk” and honors commitments: you hold yourself accountable.

What Are My Values and Beliefs?

  • You’ve decided what portion of your philanthropy will focus explicitly on results.
  • You’ve written down your values and beliefs.
  • You’ve discussed your values and beliefs with your spouse, family, and, if appropriate, your foundation leadership.
  • The people most relevant to your giving know what you do, and do not, care about.
  • You have anchor points for your current philanthropic initiatives. 
  • If you’ve been at this for a while, you’ve stepped back at least once to test how well your values are informing your philanthropic decisions.

What is "Success" and How Can It Be Achieved?

  • Your definition of success is clear enough to allow you, and others, to judge progress against it.
  • You can specify the key assumptions that underlie your theory of change.
  • You’ve taken the time to learn what others know about the essential elements of your theory of change.
  • Knowledgeable outsiders (including experts in your chosen field) think your theory of change is worth pursuing.
  • All the decision makers involved in your philanthropy (including trustees and staff if relevant) understand and embrace your definition of success and theory of change.
  • Your theory of change, not ad hoc interests or unsolicited requests, is driving funding decisions.
  • If you’ve been pursuing your theory of change for several years, you’ve revisited your initial thinking at least once and asked what is, and is not, working as you expected.

How Do I Work With Grantees?

  • You invest in due diligence to ensure that your selection process is as rigorous as the circumstances of the grant require.
  • Organizations you turn down for funding would say they were treated fairly and with respect.
  • You and your grantees have shared goals; if asked “What’s an ‘A’?” you would have similar answers.
  • Your grantees would select you over other donors, all else being equal.
  • Grantees trust you enough to come to you, unsolicited, with serious problems.
  • Organizations you’ve ceased to fund would say you ended the relationship as thoughtfully as you began it.
  • You have a reputation for following the Golden Rule in your philanthropy: you treat others as you yourself would want to be treated.

What Will It Take to Get the Job Done?

  • You’re confident that you have the right people, in the right jobs, to pursue your strategy; if not, you’re actively addressing the problem.
  • You and your trustees and staff usually agree on important decisions; when you disagree, a candid discussion ensues, and people come together around the ultimate decision.
  • Trustees and staff understand their roles and decision-making responsibilities.
  • Trustees enjoy coming to board meetings, because they know their contributions are substantive and valued.
  • Your grantees would say that you are realistic about the resources they need to execute their strategies.
  • Your own organization has the resources it requires to execute your strategy.
  • If you have been at this for a while, you’ve periodically reassessed whether you and your grantees have the capacity required to get the job done.

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