More than money

Each year since 2009 The Myer Foundation has offered a six month internship to a graduate of the  Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (CPNS) at Queensland University of Technology. The internship provides an opportunity for the graduate to get their hands dirty at one of Australia’s largest family philanthropic foundations. While learning the ropes, the intern is also expected to undertake a piece of research that examines contemporary issues in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  The result is an experience that is valuable for the intern and the broader philanthropric and Not For Profit (NFP) sector alike (check out some posts from 2010 Myer Intern, David Hardie, on this blog).

The Myer Internship Program is a form of value-add philanthropy.  It’s no wonder then that the 2011 Myer Intern, Lesley Harris, decided to focus her research piece on what other value-add activities philanthropy in Australia was undertaking. Her report, An Exploration of Non-Grantmaking Activities in Philanthropy, explores the activities philanthropic organisations in Australia are currently undertaking beyond the provision of grants. There is a surprisingly diverse range of capacity building, policy and practical support currently being offered to NFPs by trusts and foundations.

While Lesley has been pulling together her report, counterparts in the UK have been doing the same. There, a group of funders commissioned some research around what the sector in the UK refers to as Philanthropy-Plus activities. The report, called Beyond Money: A study of funding plus in the UK, makes for fascinating reading. It captures the pros and cons of funders taking on a more engaged and hands-on approach with their grantees.

On the surface you might think funders bringing more than cash to the table is a good thing.  Great funders can help their grantees leverage extra dollars, negotiate policy outcomes and collaborate and connect like-minded organisations. This approach is best harnessed by those trusts and foundations who, rather than seeing themselves as being outside the NFP sector, consider themselves as a mission driven piece of its complex tapestry.

There are however important considerations for philanthropy to make before jumping into this ‘more than money’ approach. Equally, NFPs who are offered more than grants by funders need enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.

The UK study into philanthropy-plus activities lists capacity building as one of the primary activities undertaken by grantmakers beyond their financial contributions. I’ve previously posted about the challenge funders face when trying to support capacity building in a way that respects the power-dynamic that naturally exists between grantor and grantee. There can be just a subtle difference between a funder enabling and a funder encroaching on the work of their grantee. Being aware of the existence of that power-dynamic is important. Being respectful of it is essential.

It’s important that funders remember the diversity of grantee organisations they are working with. Not all will want, or have the time, energy or need, for the non-grantmaking support the funder can bring to the table. A standardised approach to non-grantmaking activities can be counter productive and result in poor outcomes.  The authors of the UK philanthropy-plus research encourage a bespoke approach that recognizes the different needs and resource requirements of each grantee .

The ultimate challenge for those funders wishing to add non-grantmaking activities to their service provision is the ability to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses.  Further, it is essential that the funder has a clear understanding of why they want to engage in non-grantmaking activities and what value it will bring.  If you are going to do it, then know why and, while you’re at it, measure whether or not you are having the intended impact.

This engaged approach can be resource intensive, it’s important therefore to be sure that you are adding value. When measuring, be realistic, the delicate power dynamic means sometimes your grantees won’t feel like they can say no to the extra support you are offering.  You’ll need to provide mechanisms for anonymous feedback and empower your grantees to be honest.  Better yet, resource the evaluation so a third party can ask the difficult questions.

Done well and with purpose, these non-grantmaking contributions can be incredibly valuable.  Done poorly, they can be harmful and deflating for all involved. The funders of the UK report into philanthropy-plus activities perhaps best sum it up in their foreword to the report:

Our work is our work. Their work is their work.
Our joint achievements are joint achievements. Our job
is to enable where we can and stand back, except where
we bring things to the table which only we can. Where
that is money, it should be given without expectation of glory.

Sara Llewellin, Barrow Cadbury Trust;  Sioned Churchill, Trust for London; Andrew Cooper, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the the Eggs @3eggphil