Setting a Culture that Encourages Effectiveness

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Handy Lindsey Jr. of The Cameron Foundation, Mariam Noland of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Jim Canales of The James Irvine Foundation and Stephen Heintz of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund came together Tuesday afternoon at the GEO conference for a candid and powerful discussion of how CEO’s can establish a culture that encourages effectiveness.

Leading off with the idea that Empathy + Openness + Inclusion = Effectiveness, the group moved between the theoretical and the practical in mapping out their views on what type of culture is needed and how CEOs can work to establish it. Here are a few takeaways:


  • Be mindful of the human consequences of what we do.
  • If you build a real relationship with a grantee, you will not wound them with your decisions.
  • Hold staff to the same expectations of accessibility that they hold grantees to – and set benchmarks to measure it.
  • Help staff relate to grantees by requiring them to raise money for another charity.
  • Ensure empathy by only hiring staff who are empathic at their core.

Openness and Inclusion:

  • Take time to map out feedback loops among staff, Board, CACs, and grantees.
  • Embed grantee conversations in your processes.
  • Don’t underestimate how effective the process of conversing with grantees can be in diminishing the power imbalance.
  • Understand that your relationship with the Board is based on trust – build that trust by learning about each Board member.
  • Don’t “manage” your Board.  They know when they are being managed; “engage” them.

Investing in a culture of empathy, openness and inclusion will keep foundations from being shut out of the conversations and experiences needed to uncover real needs and identify promising experiments. Philanthropy is the risk capital of social change and it cannot be applied effectively if foundations are isolated and insular.