Letter from the President & CEO: Strategic Planning Process Update, April 2018

Formal headshot of Beth McCaw of Washington Women's FoundationDear WA Women’s Foundation Members,

Since my last report in March, the Board of Directors has held another full-day retreat to discuss our strategic plan. At that time, our Board heard feedback from the listening sessions that we conducted in February and early March with Cabinet, the Impact Assessment Committee, the Member Engagement Committee, and the Pooled Fund Grant Committee. Those Committees reviewed and provided feedback on a working draft of our ultimate aims/values, core beliefs, and intended impact.

As a reminder, Crux Consulting has been leading us through a values-based strategy process based upon the work of Dr. Steve Patty (Moving Icebergs: Leading People to Lasting Change). His premise is that in order to create lasting change in an organization, we need to not only shape the actions of individuals within an organization but also, dive below the surface to engage their shared values, aims, assumptions and beliefs. These shared aims/values and core beliefs become the foundation of the new strategic plan.

In my last Letter, I shared some of these Ultimate Aims –

In all things and with all colleagues, partners and stakeholders, WA Women’s Foundation will:

  • Be in community
  • Embrace discomfort
  • Elevate or amplify the power of all who identify as women

– and Core Beliefs

These beliefs and assumptions shape our work at WA Women’s Foundation:

  • Recognizing and challenging our conscious and unconscious biases leads to better decision-making
  • Philanthropy is a powerful force for change, and it is one of several tools available to us
  • Partnership-based relationships between nonprofits and philanthropists improve the condition of our community

In early March, we also convened a Task Force of current and past Pooled Fund Grant Committee leadership and asked them to brainstorm how they might change our Pooled Fund Grant Committee process to better align it with our Ultimate Aims and Core Beliefs. The Task Force included the following WA Women’s Fdn members: Susan Heikkala, 2018 Pooled Fund Grant Committee Chair; Christine Atkins, 2018 PFGC Vice Chair; Kris Kaminishi, 2017 PFGC Chair; Kay Stimson, 2016 PFGC Chair; Peggy Hanel, Cabinet Chair & 2014 PFGC Chair; Sue Eastgard, 2018 Human Services Work Group Leader (and Executive Director of 2007 grant recipient Youth Suicide Prevention Program); Lorraine del Prado, 2018 Human Services Work Group Leader, Julie Stein, Strategic Planning Task Force member (and Executive Director of 2013 grant recipient The Burke Museum); and Megan Davies, Director of Programs & Communications 2008-2017. This group deserves special appreciation for dedicating more than half a day to a robust discussion of our pooled fund grant making process. Before our meeting, they also spent time reading articles about current trends in philanthropy as well as data from past grantee and grant applicant surveys.

Among other things, the Task Force read the reviews of Washington Women’s Foundation on GrantAdvisor.org. Like Yelp, GrantAdvisor is an online service that allows grant seekers to post reviews about their experiences with grant makers. Only 7 individuals have rated their experiences with Washington Women’s Foundation so far and overall, the reviews are positive. Most, however, noted the competitiveness of our process, which also is seen as very time-intensive after the LOI phase. One described us as a “long-shot funder,” which is probably true when you consider the 99 LOIs that the Human Services Work Group reviewed this year.

After several hours of discussion, the Pooled Fund Grant Committee Task Force agreed on a number of messages to share with our Board:

  • Do something bold; be open to big changes, and pace them thoughtfully.
  • Champion increasing equity and reducing disparities.
  • Direct significant, intentional focus to diversifying the membership of the Foundation.
  • Focus on organizational culture; build a stronger culture of accountability, direct feedback and productive disagreement.
  • Build thematic alignment among the work of our Committees (Pooled Fund Grant, IAC, Member Engagement and Intersect Planning); today, the work feels siloed in committees.

The Task Force also had specific recommendations about our Pooled Fund grant making process. The Task Force felt strongly that we should retain our open LOI process and also continue to provide multi-year, unrestricted operating support. They also suggested that we build on what we have learned through our Partner Grants, especially our recent ones with Women’s Funding Alliance and Social Justice Fund. Specifically, they encouraged us to increase the number of focused grant making opportunities that provide specific, timely, impactful financial support to organizations as well as opportunities for collaboration and leverage with other funders.

In terms of possible changes to our process, the Task Force suggested:

  • Sunset the current criteria. Prioritize increasing equity and reducing disparities. Launch this change for the 2019 Pooled Fund grant making cycle.
  • Sunset the five categories, and replace them with new categories or themes that are reflective of our overall strategy of increasing equity and reducing disparities.
  • Consider flexible grant amounts.
  • Review our voting process to ensure that all who vote are doing so with deep knowledge (to maintain the integrity of our voting process and the community’s perception of it). Also review how we present information in the ballot voter’s guide to ensure that it fairly reflects the proposals.
  • Engage subject matter experts, including community representatives and grantee leadership, in the entire grant making process – from “theme development” through impact assessment – and compensate them for their time and expertise.
  • Lessen the workload of the Pooled Fund Grant Committee. The current model is unsustainably time-intensive for members.

The Board thoughtfully considered and debated the feedback of the Task Force at its March retreat. We know that a number of these issues (such as whether we sunset our five categories) will need much further study and discussion, but we also heard that many experienced Pooled Fund Grant Committee members feel a great sense of urgency to make immediate changes to improve the integrity of our process as well as increase its efficiency and effectiveness. So we’re taking to heart their charge: Do something bold; be open to big changes, and pace them thoughtfully.

We anticipate that the Board of Directors will adopt a strategic plan framework at their May meeting, at which time, I will report back to the membership and include a timeline for next steps. As I just noted, if bigger process changes are under consideration, they will not be made in May – they will be made with further review and discussion by our Board, communication with our membership and consideration of the needs of the nonprofit sector and our community.

Thank you for being part of the transformation.  If you have any questions, please call or email me. I value hearing from you.

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