top of page

A new client asked for “practical help” in the start up phase of her newly funded foundation.  

The Challenge:

A new client asked for “practical help” in the start up phase of her newly funded foundation.  She had contributed significant assets to the foundation and hired a colleague to work as staff for the foundation.  She chose this particular colleague because of her issue area expertise in women’s health.  The client and her new staff person, however, did not have any prior experience running or working at a private foundation.  The client was excited to get started but—given the large amount of assets in the foundation—came to us first to ensure that she and her staff person were adequately prepared for the challenge before them. 


Over an intense two-day retreat, we conducted a “Foundation Bootcamp.”  We worked through the following topics: 

  1. Foundation Strategy and Grantmaking Procedures,

  2. Foundation Administration and Governance.

  3. Foundation Compliance, including board member responsibilities and common legal mistakes foundations make.

  4. Grantmaking Best Practices, including establishing a philanthropic network, ways to best evaluate grants and how to maintain a diversified grants portfolio.  In the process, we provided the client with appropriate sample documents. 


The Solution:

Throughout the bootcamp, the client kept repeating the addage that “it is easy to give money away, but much more difficult to give money away well.”  After the bootcamp, she felt prepared with the key information to begin to give money away “well.”  Eighteen months after our Bootcamp session, the Foundation was randomly picked for audit by the IRS because of a technical glitch.  After the audit was complete, we heard from the client that her foundation accountant commended the client and staff person for the “easiest audit in years” because of the preparation that began during our work together.

Foundation "Bootcamp"

A client made a multi-year grant
to a major medical institution. 

The Challenge:

The grant was predicated on an agreement, which our team had negotiated, that instituted clear reporting requirements.  As the first year drew to a close, we collected the negotiated reporting information from the institution and noticed a large amount of the grant had yet to be spent as per the grant proposal's first-year budget. 


On behalf of our client, we raised the issue with the development department, which assured us in no uncertain terms that the funds had indeed been spent and that it was only a problem of delayed accounting.  Based on our suggestion, the client withheld the second year's installment until we could obtain proper accounting. 


The Solution:

Several weeks later, the department submitted revised information showing that the research project was indeed behind schedule and that the funds had yet to be spent.  We worked with the development department to understand the reason for the delay, requested a revised budget for the project, and devised steps to ensure that the medical institution was keeping the project on track. 

Had we accepted the assurances of the development department, our client would have had no way of knowing that the project was running behind and would have issued funds that would have sat dormant in the institution's accounts.  Ultimately, the client and institution reached an understanding of how to move forward for the remaining years of the grant. 

A successful businessman and philanthropist, who had run his foundation with his wife for many years, determined that he needed to design a succession strategy. 


The Challenge:

The philanthropist sought to protect his longstanding leadership role until he left the board of his own volition as well as to ensure that his children and grandchildren would cement the foundation's legacy.  These goals were challenging for him because the children and grandchildren (15 in total) did not share all his passions, often disagreed on matters of politics and policy, and had little history of successfully working together.


Our approach in a complicated family scenario is to produce practical deliverables for how the foundation will function going forward in two main areas: 1) internal board operations and governance and 2) grantmaking.  Through addressing these two areas, we uncover the points of friction and solve those points using clear policies and rules as opposed to mediating agreement on the issues themselves.

In this case, our first and most important step was to conduct one-on-one interviews with the funder and his wife for several hours each.  From this, we generated a donor intent letter that reviewed the philanthropist's personal history, significant experiences, values for his philanthropy and his family, and his philanthropic pursuits.  It served as the underpinning for all future discussions of how the foundation should function with respect for the founder who made the philanthropy possible.

Over the course of several months, we embarked on a course of interviews with key stakeholders and generated facilitation documents for a private family retreat.  At the conclusion of the family retreat and secondary meetings with the family, we generated customized set of procedures—the most important ones were as follows: (1) strict grant guidelines to limit potential family feuds about the foundation's core grantmaking areas; (2) appropriate discretionary and "community grants" giving policies to provide a "pressure valve" for board members' personal interests; (3) a board operations manual and director handbook that detailed governance rules on such important topics as board rotation, term and eligibility for the current and future generations; and (4) a customized committee structure to ensure that all family board members retain ownership and feel invested in the foundation.

The Solution:

Today, the family operates with little friction and with great personal investment in the procedures they collectively developed with our assistance.  The philanthropist is confident that his wishes will be carried out thoughtfully, and that the family will remain engaged in this philanthropic endeavor for years to come.

A client commissioned a report on how its foundation could increase the impact in its
field of interest.  

The Challenge:

The foundation's main challenge was that it had relatively few funds to distribute annually compared to the size of the problem.  One step that the foundation had already taken to improve the possibility of meaningful impact was to restrict its distributions to a specific city.  We were tasked with recommending additional strategies to raise the impact of the foundation's grants.


We began by interviewing leaders in the field and past grantees.  Next, we analyzed relevant programmatic and field data.  We synthesized this information to generate a strategic report for the foundation.  We recommended a multi-pronged strategy that highlighted, among other strategies, how the foundation could strategically promote collaboration among certain key grantees to ensure that the foundation's investment could be leveraged to the greatest extent possible.  The collaboration would allow for natural synergies to occur as well as for natural competition on the part of the grantees to advance the cause.


The Solution:

The process of generating the strategic report was important not only for the foundation, but also for the grantees.  By including grantees in the report generation, the foundation demonstrated its interest in their opinions and planted the seeds for ultimate buy-in by the grantees.  The process also alerted the grantees that the foundation might be changing its funding approach— a very important element of funder communication.

Finally, the process reminded the grantees of the foundation's desire to make change for the better in the field, and re-solidified the joint purpose between the foundation and its grantees to stretch each dollar as far as possible toward their joint cause.

Grantmaking Due Diligence
Strategic Analysis
Succession Planning
Administrative "Clean Up"

A new client came to us with a handwritten
list of grantees and commitments.

The Challenge:

The client had started off making five to ten grants a year and had tracked most grants by hand and email conversations.  But, over time, the grantee list and the distribution level grew significantly.  Now the client felt out of control and was looking for a better way to manage the administration of his grants.


We conducted a thorough assessment of the client's records, and we contacted each grantee to obtain missing information.  We asked key administrative questions including when grant payments were owed and for what the payments would be used.  For example, were the grant funds being used for general operations, program support, capital improvements, etc.?


The Solution:

We coded all our client's grants into our customized grant-tracking software, from which we could analyze grant data and generate an annual schedule for reports and distributions.  In addition, we developed a spreadsheet that charted grant distribution against the amount of cash available for distribution, so the client had better insight into whether he was distributing more or less than he intended.  The client reviewed the document and added other grants that he was considering, and became more active in mapping out his grant-making plans.

In addition, the client was able to identify which grantees misunderstood their grant's purpose. He then asked us to go back to those grantees to clarify goals.  Finally, the client decided that he would benefit from contracts with all his grantees for grants over $50,000 to prevent future misunderstandings.  In other words, once the client got a better hold on the administration of his grants, he became more engaged in designing and implementing the grants with a strategic lens.

bottom of page