Catalyst, Leadership, Philanthropy

Pay for the Chalk

My friend and mentor Fred Smith recently posted an insightful article about the tendency for givers to support active programs but resist funding the administrative and supportive costs those programs require. In part he gives this example:

It’s like a business manager in a school where I taught years ago. He had a closet full of chalk he had been saving for ten years. When I asked him why he didn’t give it to the teachers he told me “They will just use it. Then they’ll come back for more and we’ll run out.” He knew they needed chalk to teach but he didn’t want to give to overhead.
At Catalyst we’ve intended from the start to invest our funds in areas that others might not. What feels good to us is seeing the leaders of charities intentionally developed into higher degrees of effectiveness. This morning the results of the Stronger Together 2010 collaborative funding process were announced.All of these grants represent overhead and back office (“Capacity Building”) needs. In a subsequent post I’ll share the grants in which we are involved. At this point I want to make just one of many observations about why this process was so good for us. Like the business manager hoarding chalk, we have our preconceptions about what organizations and projects are most appealing and effective. Often that means I can quickly reject requests that don’t fit our usual parameters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s important for us to have an understanding of what we want to accomplish as an organization and to not easily get distracted from it. But sometimes we need to stretch. Working closely with seven other funders stretched us. Having their perspectives and experience multiply ours has caused us to become involved in a significant number of grants that we typically would not. As a result we will bee learning a great deal that may improve our work with our more familiar partners, as well as introducing us to some new people we may want to interact with more in the future.