updates from the foundation
Saying No Is Hard To Do!
April 22, 2013
We want to talk a little bit about saying no in this post. The reality of our job as foundation staff is that we spend more of our time saying no than we do saying yes. By a lot. We calculate that we say no about ten times as often as we say yes. Most of the time when we’re saying no, we wish we could say yes. Yes to ideas, people, plans, opportunistic moments that could leverage change. Yes to the dreams for a better world that you have nurtured into life and are brave enough to share with us. Yes to the passion and creativity that you are committed to putting in service to people and planet. We want to revel in the spirit and innovation you bring to the work. Instead, we say no, and it often breaks our hearts.
We say no, quite simply, because we have to. There is never going to be enough foundation funding to support all of the truly wonderful and critical work nonprofits do. We say no because our grants budget is limited, and probably would feel limited no matter how big it was. We also say no because our job is to help the Compton board accomplish their goals. Maybe that means that a project does not map to our guidelines, our issue area of interest, is not really ready for funding, or numerous other nuances that contribute to an assessment of the best match between what our board is trying to ignite in the world and what you are proposing.
We try to say no clearly and quickly, so that you can make the most efficient use of your limited time, and to provide substantive reasoning if we can. We try to articulate our vision, mission, and priorities as clearly as we can so that you will be able to get a good sense of whether or not we’re likely to say no before you talk to us. We know that we can always articulate more clearly what our leadership and storytelling guidelines mean. And, even if we manage to find the perfect words, at the end of the day, many of our decisions are based on an intuitive understanding of our board’s priorities and goals, and that understanding often does not align with the way you read our guidelines and interpret our goals. Those are the hardest conversations, when you just know that we are the perfect fit for your work, and we don’t see it that way.
Our intention is to say no with kindness, and to ensure that we are a resource for you in any other way we can be. In this work we often hear of unanswered emails, phone messages, and proposals. We often fall short in our desired responses too—we take too long to get back to people, or lose the personal touch in the effort to find our own efficiencies. There aren’t many of us, and we have big, broad guidelines, so there are a lot of folks who want to talk about whether they might be a fit! We are, nevertheless, committed to honoring the time and hope you put into reaching out to us and sharing your stories. We want the process of our work, as well as our grantmaking, to advance our values and vision of a compassionate and just future.
We thank you for allowing us the privilege of learning about what you do. Even when we say no, we think the work you do is important and valuable and might just change the world.
December Reflections 2012
December 20, 2012
The end of the year is often a time for reflecting on what has passed. Here at the Compton Foundation, it feels like we have been on quite a journey this year as we have worked to bring our new mission and vision alive. We have made 77 grants, using each one as an opportunity to explore the range of possible strategies that might be termed transformative leadership or courageous storytelling. The grants have highlighted the myriad ways these ideas are being addressed and the people, organizations, and projects that are actively engaged in bringing new work to life.
Through these leadership and storytelling grants, we have addressed concerns in and beyond all of the Foundation’s traditional issue areas, including climate change, foreign policy, peace building, green jobs, the new economy, money in politics, women’s reproductive rights and justice, sustainable food, and art for social/environmental change. We have supported local and international endeavors, artists, individual leaders and networks of organizations, groups doing direct action as well as those advocating for policy change, organizations imagining vibrant new ways to live with one another and our environment and those telling stories using innovative social media.
As we head into 2013, we recognize that we must continue to learn about how best to use the resources with which we are entrusted to advance a vision of a sustainable, peaceful, and just future. We are thinking of our process as an adaptive strategy, informed by what we find along the way and responsive to the changing context in which we all live. While there are some things that are clear as we move into 2013, there is more that we do not know, and we look forward to continuing to learn, along with our partners and colleagues, about how social and environmental change is unfolding in the 21st century.
Some of what we do know about how our work is unfolding includes:
• Although our first filter will be leadership and storytelling, our grantmaking will remain rooted in our traditional areas of work: peace, environment, and women’s reproductive rights and justice.
• We are interested in efforts that are multi-dimensional: work that builds bridges between issues and across traditional organizational boundaries, embraces a systems approach, and uses multiple strategies and tools to advance change.
• There is rich opportunity at the intersection of leadership and storytelling. Some of the work that is inspiring us includes those organizations and networks in which story is an integral part of engagement, organizing, and movement building.
• Culture change will be an essential aspect of our strategy moving forward. If we are going to change the political and economic systems within which we live and work, we need to disrupt the fundamental narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and how we relate to one another. Artists of all kinds help us do that.
We designed 2012 as a year of internal investigation and learning, and we deeply appreciate all the time people have spent thinking with us about our new mission and considering whether and how it might be a match for their own efforts. Since we posted the new mission and guidelines this February, we have received more than 600 inquiries. While we have frankly been a bit overwhelmed, each one inspired us, and each one helped us define, just a little bit better, where we could invest our resources in the world to make a difference. This kind of conversation has been and will continue to be critical to our continued evolution.
With much gratitude and wishes for a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable new year,
The Compton team
Learning as we go
September 7, 2012
When Compton’s board adopted a new mission statement in December of 2011, some of the first questions we asked ourselves were, “What does this actually mean?” and “If we start from this mission, how can we develop a program that will help to advance social and environmental change?” We wanted to understand whether the shift in emphasis, and our desire to focus on strategies (transformative leadership and courageous storytelling) instead of issues, would actually be helpful, and we wanted to learn how folks who used language that seemed similar to that of our new mission turned those abstract ideas into meaningful practice.
We decided to start by talking to people who were doing work that seemed like it might be a fit for what we heard our board saying. The paper, Transformative Leadership in Practice, is the result of our conversations about these questions with 28 grant partners and colleagues. We held three lunch conversations this spring with a diverse group of people—folks who work on a range of issues, hold a variety of organizational roles, and have differing relationships with the Foundation—and we listened. Facilitated by Tom David, these discussions illuminated opportunities, challenges, and words of wisdom for Compton’s board as we embark on the journey to implement the new mission.
While there were many “ah ha” moments in the conversations, one of the big ones for me was the request of our participants that we “walk our talk:” that we model the kind of leadership and storytelling in which we are asking our grant partners to engage. Uh oh! I wasn’t sure this would be easy. In fact, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be easy. Fair play, though—what our board was asking for in terms of change in the world probably wasn’t going to be easy, so the least we could do was start at home. What we heard in those discussions was that walking our talk would mean operating with transparency, humility, and a deep commitment to honoring relationships. It would also mean making our transitions and learning evident to those within and outside the foundation in more or less real time. In addition, participants encouraged us to work within the philanthropic field to advance riskier grantmaking focused on failing quickly as a way to be more effective in the long run, to promote ‘open source’ grantmaking that would share ideas much more broadly, and to advocate for support for networked movement-building aligned around long-term vision. Finally, they asked us to make practical changes to our grantmaking procedures in ways that would build organizational capacity and would allow grantees to respond quickly to changing contexts for their work. As our first efforts, more than 50% of our 2012 grants have been made as general operating support grants—a way to invest in the whole of an organization’s work, which enables our grant partners to operate in a more holistic fashion—and we are starting this blog to offer a peak into our internal thought processes.
The conversations left us with much food for thought and have stimulated important conversations within and among Compton’s staff and board. We hope that this kind of conversation will continue, both internally and externally, because we know that we all do better when we think together and actively dissent and debate the right course forward. We are sharing this paper in order to invite you into our process. We look forward to hearing from you!