It must be all the graduations in my family that are inspiring me to think about accomplishments, those who help us accomplish great things, and the goals we set for the next adventure. Inspired by Allison’s master degree, Erin’s high school diploma (and, perhaps, of greater relief, that college acceptance letter), and Patrick’s move from elementary to secondary school, I prepared a mid-year report card on the National Center for Family Philanthropy that takes stock of what we’ve accomplished in recent months and where we are headed.

Part of our ambitious program agenda involves supporting donor families as they navigate the economic crisis. For example, we have been handling record numbers of Requests for Information about investment management, payout, perpetuity, staying on/changing mission, and …you name it. As one staff member said, “We told them on our new website to Ask the Center, and darned if they aren’t!”

I also have been facilitating conversations with a few family foundation boards about their response and planning for the economic turmoil.  I have been able to share practice, encouragement, and suggestions for helping their grantees and their communities.

None of our work is possible without the values, vision, and investment of our volunteers and funders.  NCFP is fortunate to have an engaged, thoughtful, and enthusiastic Board of Directors.  Our Board members have been diligent in staying in touch and on top of our unique competencies and challenges.  Given the great demand for our services and the precarious times we find ourselves in, they know it is critical that we are values and mission driven.  They ensure we find the best ways to be bold and careful, creative and responsive. While other organizations might find comfort in a “wait it out” approach, – preferably in a nice sheltered area! – our Board continues to urge us to think both expansively and prudently.

A Mid-Year Report Card

Here’s what we’re doing on the economy and other fronts:

  • The Value of Family Philanthropy: You can look forward to the publication this fall of The Value of Family Philanthropy in our Democracy.  This anniversary publication summarizes the findings of our interview study of 50 philanthropy leaders plus key points made by donor families at 14 regional symposia and as highlights of the national symposium we organized in Washington last fall. We are unabashed advocates for family philanthropy and think we provide no more important service than ensuring this work is well understood, practiced, and valued as a key component of democracy. We hope you’ll find the publication makes inroads in all three areas.
  • Pursuit of Excellence: Launched earlier this year, POE is the first assessment process designed specifically for family foundations, to be led by experienced facilitators.  We already have trained 20 consultants across the country to help family foundations assess current and aspirational performance in five key areas: governance, family involvement, legacy and mission, financial administration, and grantmaking. Ten more consultants will be trained in October in San Francisco.
  • Current Practices Survey: In August, we will publish a report on research we conducted about current practices in family foundations, providing critical benchmarking data for foundations going through the POE assessment process or others who simply want to know where they stand compared with their peers.
  • A New Website: This winter we launched a new website at www.ncfp.org.  The site has new features, is more user-friendly and is rich with new content available to all donor families and those interested in learning more about this philanthropy.
  • Family Philanthropy Online Knowledge Center and Other New Resources:Users of our Knowledge Center, the world’s largest database on family giving, will notice major improvements in search capability when a new version launches soon. We are regularly adding new content, both our own as well as contributions from colleagues. Nearly five years of monthly teleconferences are archived there as well (no need to travel in order to hear leading experts on dozens of topics—just become a Knowledge Center subscriber!)  Our most well-attended teleconference ever was held in January, on Creative Grantmaking During Tough Economic Times.” This was accompanied by a new resource, Families Step Up to Meet the Economic Crisis, one of our Passages issue papers which we made available on our website as a free download.
  • Expanding the Family Learning Community: Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: This year, we have been seeking ways for more philanthropic families to be served through greater cooperation within the field. We have developed a concept paper that seeks to ensure that the National Center’s quality resources can reach many more grantmakers through the large member networks serving philanthropy. We also want to partner with major foundations with the capacity to generate critical research, resources and best practices in their areas of interest that can be shared with other funders for greater impact.  We plan to expand this work as the central focus of our program agenda.  This will include:
    • Using new software to analyze use of our website to help us understand what you most want to know and whether our current Knowledge Center has enough quality material to respond to your requests;
    • Commissioning special reports and teleconferences on payout, perpetuity, and related topics. We also will be developing profiles of families and how they are shaping governance, grantmaking, and management in these times.
    • Global Efforts: Other countries have started connecting more with NCFP for resources. During the past year, I presented at a major conference and several other venues in Israel. Through those connections, we now have a subscriber organization and a new Friend of the Family. We contributed an article on trends in U.S. family foundations for an international report published by Cass Business School in London. We have also been approached by a philanthropic advisor group in Germany and financial advisors in Singapore about translating some of our resources into other languages to help donor families in their countries where the family philanthropy field is much younger.
  • Ensuring the National Center Models Effective Nonprofit Management:  The economic times are affecting all nonprofits, and the National Center is no exception. We know it’s difficult for funders to balance support for all their prospective grantees.  We are fortunate that our funders, including the Friends of the Family, recognize that during these troubled times, we are needed more than ever in our history.  Part of earning and fulfilling that trust and faith means we must be responsible in the choices we make – both programmatic and operational.  We have looked for ways to save operations money for program expenses. For example, when we leased our current space some eight years ago, it was a great time to be a landlord.  We have been working for months to negotiate an end to that lease and acquire new space in the neighborhood in the much more favorable renters’ market. Our pending move, announced elsewhere in this newsletter, will cut our rent in half.
  • Core Services: Along with the new offerings I’ve outlined, we continue to provide the core services donor families rely on us for such as our Family Giving News electronic newsletter, Passages issue papers, teleconferences, group presentations and one-on-one advice.

You’ll notice I haven’t assigned any grades in all of this talk of report cards and school!  I’ve always been better at setting goals and working toward them than I was at handling grades.  (And that was especially true back when I was a school teacher and had to give them out!)

In almost 30 years in philanthropy, I have never felt such a sense of excitement, privilege, opportunity, and urgency in doing this work.  If there is something that would be helpful to you in your work, I hope you will not hesitate to call me or one of the extraordinary staff members of the National Center.

We navigate these tough times with a bounty of committee members, advisors, editorial reviewers, and our Senior Fellow, Alice Buhl, who provide the best guidance the field has to offer.  And, of course, we have funders committed to effective family philanthropy that enriches the lives of the communities served as well as the donor families themselves.  To those who share their wisdom, time, and precious grantmaking dollars so as many as possible may both engage in and benefit from family philanthropy, my sincere gratitude, respect, and commitment to continue to earn your trust.

Enjoy the last weeks of summer!

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