In the beginning we gained background information on different ways to think about philanthropic efforts and comparing the different approaches and styles one can take when evaluating philanthropy. Gradually as a class we began to see the application of these previous theories throughout our interviewing and selection process. The most helpful evaluation of a charitable organization is to hear how they evaluate themselves as well as which standards, rules, and regulations they choose to implement and enforce within their organization. Another tell-tale sign about whether or not a philanthropic organization is “good” is the way in which the people who work and support the organization talk about both the cause and their esteemed organization’s approach to it. The not-for-profit sector unlike the for-profit sector has more emphasis placed on helping others at the expense of the charitable organization while the for-profit sector places more emphasis on money, accountability, and retention. Both are in essence of a business, and as such, should incorporate aspects of money, accountability, and generosity towards the people. Some factors that really stood out when in the first stage of the selection process were personalization, innovation, and originality. Though these factors were not expressed directly through our RFP, they played a key role in determining which charities moved along because each have the goal of moving society toward a brighter future through education. Focus then needed to be on how their approach was different from other charitable organizations. As we move forward into the semester and I continue to dig deeper into the charities, my expectations of charitable organizations will continue to evolve based on new information presented.
The process of setting up an interview with the executive director of Free the Kids was very simple. Our group worked together to organize the time of the call, the questions we would ask, and any extra information that was necessary to determine if the grant would be in good hands with the organization. The call itself went very smoothly and I knew the grant would be of good use for Free the Kids. I could hear little kids in the background on call with my group and that alone proved Mr. Irr’s involvement in the program. He was very kind and responded to each of our questions in a very detailed manner, and although he was not sure of what the Better Business Bureau was, he seemed curious as to what it was and why his organization wasn’t BBB-approved. One particular question we asked was about the percentage of beneficiaries that are girls, which is something that I believe is very important. Despite only about a third of his beneficiaries being girls, he ensured us of his venture to create programs specifically for girls and promised us that it is as important to him as it is to us.
Working with a team was wonderful because it ensures that several ideas and inputs are introduced. Since we met and discussed the call outline in class, we left no stones unturned as everyone contributed their own questions and pointed out issues within the outline. This is one aspect of the class that I feel is very important. Professor Counts leaves much of the debating up to the students, which allows us to freely state our thoughts and advocate for what we believe in and to develop life-long skills that we could use in our careers years from now. I appreciate how we get to make the calls ourselves and visit the sites on our own time because it allows us to experience what the organizations do rather than simply do some internet research.
I was recently switched over to the Camfed group before site visits. We are meeting on Monday, April 23rd to both plan and conduct our site visit with the foundation. Due to the switch, I had to catch up to how the call went with the organization. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my group for Free the Kids, but I am also very excited to work with my new team. I can already tell that they are committed and passionate about the issue at hand, and I feel that I will fit in just fine.
I can’t say I’ve had any class quite like PLCY 388G and that’s a good thing. Professor Counts and the teaching assistants have shown me how many layers there are to philanthropy and how difficult it is to decide where to allocate money because at the end of the day a lot of these organizations are doing really good work. My experience going through getting more information out of “Pencils of Promise” came with some unexpected moments. I didn’t expect to have to reschedule with an organization that was trying to get money from us because if I was a part of a non-profit that was lacking funds, I would be doing everything in my power to make sure that I was on time for the call and ready to answer every question. Professor Counts brought up an interesting question as to whether their absence from the first call attempt should affect their ranking on which organization we donate to and I believe that it should. While I still believe that “Pencils of Promise” has a lot to offer in terms of how they allocate the donated money to children in Sub-Saharan Africa, there was something that didn’t feel right in terms of whether they saw us as a legitimate group that was looking to help out. I remembered when a student in class inquired about sponsors like Mastercard and whether it was something to be concerned or not about. I looked into it more and I believe the student brought up a good point. Corporate sponsors are a lot different from donations in that sponsors are often looking to get something out of the non-profit like being able to say that they support non-profits in order to improve their own brand image. Sometimes this gives these sponsors more input in the organization than they should have which could be a concern.
Throughout the semester I have learned a great deal about philanthropy and the multiple facets that accompany it. However, I most appreciated how we utilized techniques learned and put them into actual practice. Preparing for and eventually partaking in our initial phone interviews for the Do Good Challenge grant has provided me with a greater sense of confidence moving forward in my own professional life.
As a senior, I am currently participating in phone interviews for prospective job opportunities to come after graduation. Due to my lack of experience, I get nervous beforehand and fear that my performance negatively affected my chances of landing the job. It was refreshing to be on the other side of the conversation and conduct the interview, rather than being interviewed. This experience gave me insight to the thought process that individuals conducting phone interviews have, and how I can apply it to my own personal job hunt.
Throughout class discussion, Professor Counts and the teaching team provided students with a guideline to better prepare us for conducting our initial phone interviews. Researching the respective organization and creating a well-planned outline to follow during the call is a valuable lesson and can certainly be applied to my own personal job hunt. Moving forward, I will research and come up with unique questions to ask the respective organizations that will reflect my interest and ultimately place me in a better position to land the job.
Putting yourself in the shoes of the other person is a valuable lesson that can be applied to all aspects of life. However, I am grateful for the opportunity that this course has given me in respect to learning and ultimately practicing conducting professional interviews over the phone and will leave a lasting impact on my efforts moving forward as I enter the professional workplace.
Last week along with other students, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey Fraioli, Senior Donor Relations Manager for Camfed USA. Going into the phone call I had very few expectations of Ms. Fraioli. I figured that she would speak well of her organization and hopefully provide us with compelling reasons to select them as the receivers of our grant. However, when we spoke with her I was blown away by her eloquence and extensive knowledge of the organization. She answered every question we threw at her thoroughly and without hesitation. Additionally she commented on the quality of our questions and through her answers she conveyed her passion for the work Camfed does.
Growing up my grandmother worked in fundraising. She was a senior gifts officer for the Miami City Ballet for 21 years. I am always in awe of her ability to make everyone feel valued and necessary to the cause. I believe that the ability to connect with donors coupled with a genuine love for, and knowledge of, the work one does that makes a fundraiser effective. If someone is going to donate a sum of money to an organization they want to believe in the importance of said organization. When their contact seems passionate about the work the organization does, said person is more likely to donate funds. The enthusiasm and excitement of the fundraiser can be contagious and encourage donors. Additionally, a person is much more likely to donate to an organization if they feel that they are valued and making an impact. My grandmother always made the effort to know the names of the donors, their family members, and major events going on in each of their lives. She took people out to lunch for their birthdays and sent flowers if they were ill. The attention to details is what made my grandmother such an effective fundraiser.
Last Thursday I walked away from our phone interview feeling confident in the work my group was doing, due to how well our call had gone. I credit the successful outcome of our conversation mostly to Ms. Fraioli’s responses. I was blown away by how much information she was able to recall without hesitation and appreciated her attention to details in her responses. If I ever decide to fundraise as a profession I would hope to be as effective and knowledgeable as her.
Over the course of the last two weeks our class completed all of our interviews with the grant seekers. The first notable thing that I would like to bring attention to is how eagerly our students participated in these interviews. The class has really taken ownership of the process of selecting an organization and every student seems to be invested in the class and eager to participate.
One grant seeking organization stood out to our class, in a way that brought about harsh conversation and controversy. Educate Lanka boasted a high student success rate, with the number of students dropping out of school being 50 out of 1,200. However, this brought up several questions. Why were these students still dropping out? What is the context of the situation? How many of those 1200 students would have dropped out without the financial help of the organization? The group did not have answers to these questions, and the rest of the students were skeptical of an organization that provided a success rate when they did not provide statistics of what it was helping. Upon further research it was discovered that the average dropout rate in Sri Lanka was between 11-15%, and that 50/1200 students made for a 4% dropout rate. A lot of students, including myself, felt a bit more comfortable with this statistic.
This is an important lesson for future proposals. Context is key. If we do not know the original dropout rate, we do not know how the new dropout rate is different. We cannot make a decision about who to give money to if the information they present to us is unclear and misleading. A little bit of background information can make the difference between skeptical criticism and trust. This is also a lesson in what interview questions to ask. If the group who interviewed them had asked what the normal dropout rate is and how Educate Lanka’s dropout rate was different, a lot of students would probably have felt better about the 50/1,200 students dropping out.
All of this being said, I am proud of how our students conducted themselves during this conversation. We had a very respectful and constructive discussion, with a lot of good and thought provoking questions. Some of them may have seemed overly critical and harsh at times, but they are all important questions that needed to be asked and will help us in the long run of choosing an organization to award our grant.
In reading Professor Counts’ “Eight Steps to Successfully Managing a Founder Transition,” I agreed with many of the ideas laid forth in regards to dealing with leadership changes. One line that really stuck out to me in this passage was that “above all, keep egos, zero-sum thinking, and gossip to a minimum.” Though I have not had any experience with leadership changes at the CEO level, my own experience in leadership positions have shown me that these three things are important to keeping a team together.
Of the eight steps set out by Counts, I thought the second step was of major importance in the departure of a leader. Keeping a leader from being involved in the organization after their term helps to maintain the focus of the organization on the goals of that organization. With change in leadership for any organization, the hope is that some positive change will arise. In having the previous leader dissociate from the working of the organization, there is a better chance that the organization will be able to progress, void of impositions from a force which might hinder this progression.
From my own personal experience as a two-year captain of my high school track and cross country teams, I have seen how the ego can interfere with the chemistry of a team. When an individual in power places their own ideologies and opinions above the betterment of the team as a collective, improvement is much more difficult to be made. In order for a team to function properly, all parts need a common focus so that the team will be cohesive. If a leader is ever to find themselves in a position where their pride hinders the success of the group, then that individual has failed their duty as a leader.
Intent vs Impact
A constant theme in this course has been if “bad charity” is a possibility. As expected, the topic came up again after the reading on Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls and ignited conversation in class. A large number of students agreed that Oprah’s approach needed much improvement. Students believed the amount of money she spent was excessive and she could have helped more girls with that amount of money. I began to wonder if Oprah helped the same amount of girls with a lot less money if there would be as much outrage. I realized that in regards to philanthropy people want money to be used “efficiently.” Although that is very subjective and seems somewhat insensitive especially since the project was funded by Winfrey and not the general public. The thought that people in poverty deserve just enough of what the public thinks is sufficient seems somewhat problematic and indicative of how society views people in poverty. The argument of if Winfrey’s academy was “bad ” or “good” philanthropy should not focus on how much she spent nor how many girls she helped but instead on her intent versus her impact.
The subject of intent vs. impact is another topic of contention that was discussed in this class and can be a productive way to critically assess philanthropic work. My interpretation of Thomas Kelly’s piece, “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Charity,” Kelly was ascertaining that people should focus more on impact rather than intent. In his piece he explains that he did not give money with the intention of helping a merchant build a business, but that was the impact. Even though this explanation of Kelly’s piece is sensible it is very short sighted as it gives very little responsibility to the philanthropists in their intent and execution, which often affects the outcome.
This discussion is multifaceted so there is no simple answer to the question of if charity is “good” if its impact is positive, no matter the intent or scale of the impact. I suspect this will be a point of discussion for years to come. However regarding Oprah and my criticism of her academy, her intent set this particular philanthropic mission on the wrong course. Oprah was creating her dream school which left little room for the community and students to apply their dreams as well. The community complained that she has severed the students from the community and family while insulated them in an environment that makes it hard to integrate back into the community. Her intent was not fully what was best for the students so it is harder for the outcome to fully benefit the students.
At the beginning of the course, one of the moments that I was really looking forward to was the moment in which we would be able to speak and interview with the grant seekers. I believe that while RFPs are a crucial part of the process, being able to speak with the individuals behind the organizations is just as important due to the fact that it allows us to have a greater sense as to the type of organization and people we could potentially end up partnering with. After reading Orsoz Insider Guide in which Dr. Peter Ellis outlines his eight iron laws for calls or meetings with grant seekers, I was very surprised to learn how carefully we must approach the meetings in order to avoid miscommunication and misleading statements. Prior to this course, I assumed that meetings between grant makers and grant seekers were a professional, but relatively relaxed and straightforward casual conversation between two parties. Dr. Ellis’s eight rules seems to somewhat prove otherwise and outlines how sensitive the conversation can be, which led me to thinking how similar nonprofit meetings can be to traditional business meetings where verbal and non verbal cues can lead people to misinterpret your statements and make incorrect conclusions as to the predicted outcome of the meeting.
With the new information that we learned through class readings and discussion, we will now be better prepared to hold a successful meeting with our organization in order to achieve our meeting objectives while also making sure to keep in mind the importance of the eight rules relating to choice of words and structure of the meeting. Throughout this whole process, I’ve learned how much work is required from both the grant makers and grant seekers from the time of introducing a grant to the point of choosing a recipient. Similar to for-profit businesses, countless hours of research, preparation, and due diligence has to be conducted in order to ensure that both parties are a good fit for each other and that a long term partnership is feasible in order to ensure an impact is made with the grant. Moving forward, I plan on utilizing this knowledge regarding the relationship between nonprofits and grant makers to make better-informed decisions when involved with philanthropic efforts. My family has always placed a large emphasis on giving back to the community and offering a helping hand to those in less fortunate situations, and this class has positively impacted me by teaching me the nuances and key information to look for and evaluate when getting involved with philanthropy that I will be able to apply to our family’s charitable activities.