Takeaways Blog on Scaling for Success

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This blog summarizes key notes from our September Fundamentals of Family Philanthropy Webinar.

Giving families often reach a point where they grow their giving; however, it is often challenging to understand the practices that promote success. How do you develop an effective strategy and systems as your philanthropy expands? When does a philanthropic effort require staff and what are the considerations for hiring? In the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s recent webinar, Alexa Cortes Culwell, Carolyn Wall Sakata, and Kate Seng discussed the inflection points at which families decide to scale their efforts, how to successfully scale a philanthropic entity, and what the broader considerations are for families as they anticipate and implement the scaling process. Here are important takeaways from the discussion.

Giving families reach inflections points where they decide to scale their giving effort. The decision to scale can stem from multiple internal and external factors.

This is a moment of historic wealth creation and transfer, and many giving families expect to receive a significant influx of assets as a result. Sheer asset size alone may catalyze families to scale their giving, but others decide to grow their philanthropies as a result of new and improved strategies that require more organizational capacity. Other families have made commitments to create additional infrastructure in the organization to meet its needs, and want to find ways to effectively grow their existing grantmaking and organizational structures.

There are also forces within the sector that have challenged families to think differently about the size and scope of their philanthropy. Recent crises created a much larger need for philanthropic dollars, and many families responded with a faster pace and higher rates of giving. Families are thinking differently about payout, perpetuity, and legacy in light of these circumstances, with many opting to spend more in the near-term. New and non-traditional vehicles also allow for more giving and additional infrastructure to support them.

Before scaling, it is critical to answer questions around philanthropic purpose that will guide the family through the decision-making and change management process.

The collective motivations and shared values of a family often serve as a north star, guiding the philanthropy through strategic choices and challenging decisions. Similarly, it is important for families to dedicate time on “first-order” questions before scaling up their existing philanthropy. These first-order questions speak to the guiding principles, priorities, and values that undergird the giving effort. What is our philanthropic purpose, our shared values, and our family culture? What really are the most significant priorities and issue areas for our giving? What does impact look like? How are we showing up as partners in community?

Scaling up a philanthropy requires building and strengthening interconnected, complex systems, and it requires quite a bit of decision making. Giving families should spend intentional time together discussing their philanthropic purpose—why and how they carry out their philanthropy—to help guide their decisions around scaling, growth, and operational capacity.

There are many operational considerations about how an organization scales its grantmaking, operations, governance, and other operational aspects, and these choices should be rooted in philanthropic purpose.

Growing a family philanthropy effort requires thoughtful decision making around staffing and organizational culture, internal systems and operating procedures, governance and decision making, strategy and grantmaking practices, and legacy, succession, and family dynamics. Some example considerations are:

  • What kind of governing board do you want and need? Who will be on the board and what are their qualifications?
  • Who makes decisions—who is on the board and what are their roles?
  • What is the organizational design, culture, and staffing that will be put in place?
  • What are the parameters—budget, staff size, assessment framework?

Scaling is no easy feat, and as mentioned, it is incredibly important to consider the range of options through the lens of philanthropic purpose. What does the organizational design and staffing look like when there is a culture defined by shared values? How does philanthropic purpose drive who makes decisions and how? How can the family leverage their values in the operational aspects of their work? While there are complex operational decisions to be made, rooting these choices in shared philanthropic purpose will help guide the family towards a successful outcome.

To learn more, the recording and transcript of “Scaling for Success” are available exclusively to NCFP Friends of the Family and Partner Subscribers.

Jen Crino is a Program Manager at NCFP