PhilTV: When a Community Foundation Takes a Bold Stand, Aligning Mission and Approach Matter

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When a community foundation takes a bold, brave stand: Why aligning mission and approach matter

New York City – When an organization’s mission, strategy and operating model are not aligned, making tough decisions can be fraught with difficulty. Bringing them into alignment can make those choices easier – and with surprising results, as an Indiana community foundation discovered.

The example came from Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation, during an October 20 panel discussion for the Philanthropy New York program “More Than Giving: Theory of the Foundation” moderated by  Ford Foundation Program Officer Chris Cardona.

WATCH the 3:06 minute clip now to hear more.

Miller emphasized the importance of aligning mission, strategy and metrics, and then described a situation where initially that was not the case – a community foundation in Indiana on whose board he served.

The foundation “was trying at one and the same time to raise as much as money as it possibly could in the donor-advised funds services business – and have a seat at the table around what should happen in the community, what the priorities should be.”

The problem was that many of the issues the community faced were controversial – proverbial “third rails” – creating a built-in conflict. As Miller said, “there was this absolute fear that if the community foundation stepped up and took a bold, brave stand on an issue their donor base would dry up.”

This collision between a mission focused on providing community leadership and an approach of maximizing local philanthropy was underscored by an immediate question the board faced: In the middle of a campaign to double its donor-advised funds, should the foundation take a stand on how welcoming the community should be to lesbians and gays, even if it risked alienating some conservative members of the community who might otherwise be donors?

Miller, who was facilitating a strategic planning process, urged the board, “Until you figure out which one of those things you want to do, you cannot create a strategy and an operating model that will work.”

The board chose the community leadership model, he recounted, and with surprising results.

“They chose the community leadership model,” Miller said. “The people they were most worried about continued to give money.  And there were a number of us who felt the folks who used this as an excuse not to give money wouldn’t have given anyway. So they were successful in hitting the goal of going from $25 million to $50 million in a certain period – either because of, or in spite of, their willingness to say we want to have an LGBT law here in this incredibly conservative town in southern Indiana, which it now has.”

Cardona’s response: “I wish we could take that last 60 seconds and broadcast it to every community foundation board room across the country because that question about consequences comes up a lot.” 

The larger program was an exploration of “The Theory of Foundation” framework developed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors President and CEO Melissa Berman.  The pane was comprised of:

  • Stephanie Bell-Rose, Head of the TIAA CREF Institute, TIAA CREFF
  • Melissa Berman, President and CEO, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
  • Elena Marks, President, Episcopal Health Foundation
  • Clara Miller, President, The F.B. Heron Foundation
  • Will Miller, President, Wallace Foundation
  • Chris Cardona (Moderator), Program Officer, Ford Foundation

The video below is from the full session.  It runs 1 hour 50 minutes.