Demonstrating & Communicating Philanthropy’s Impact

OK, for the 4th of four summary posts from Conversation 2009, here’s a brief synthesis of what participants had to say about the topic.

We all strive to translate the enormous complexity of our organizational pursuits into meaningful stories about people. We must recognize and embrace the donor’s call for transparency, devising new ways to help them get the information they want when they want it.

As practitioner awareness and language migrates away from fundraising (means) and increasingly to impact (ends), a host of challenges and new opportunities arise. Understanding, demonstrating, and communicating organizational impact cannot be relegated to a single operating department. It is a leadership philosophy about the covenant with the donor.

Dreams, visions, preferred futures—by whatever name, they are philanthropy’s igniters and catalysts for positive change. Rather than trying to persuade donors to see an organizational feature or point of view, we have an obligation to foster each donor’s sense of self-discovery. We are not only connecting donors to our organizations, we are connecting donors to their own dreams.

If our work in philanthropy is to be truly transformational, we must create a safe place for unprecedented and insightful dialogue about the true significance and meaning of our work. There is merit in taking the long-term view. As practitioners, we have to live into the possibilities of these unintended consequences. We must learn and adapt as we go. By creating a new frame for the conversations that are intended to facilitate solutions, the resulting “big ideas” can lead to sustainable solutions and fewer unwelcome consequences.

Our conversation led us to a set of emerging guidelines for decision making around the focus of philanthropy:

Illustration by Ken Hubbell
Leading by asking different questions.

(Illustration by Ken Hubbell)

New Perspectives on Leadership

Conversation 2009 yielded several cool insights and powerful exchanges. Any discussion of social sector and philanthropy effectiveness must touch on the issue of leadership. Here’s an advance peak at some of the highlights from our gathering last April.

As leaders, it is centrally important that we are effective listeners. Because we’re all from different perspectives, our responses are different. Leaders help others find their authentic alignment. Internal alignment and forgiveness is a huge part of staying whole as a leader.

“An alternative is to simply accept the complexity and participate in it. Relish diversity and the unique quality of all things. This engenders a sense of belonging—and hence reinforces the motivation to participate. What drives this reinforcing cycle is love, empathy, and relationships.”*

The people we lead seek community.

In an attempt to offer perspective, I reflected that as the builders of bridges—whether in metaphor or reality—leaders must neither underestimate nor undervalue the “trust equity” they have earned over time. This trust equity—some might call it relationship capital or relationship insurance—is not solely the product of a leader’s age, tenure, and personality. It is all that and more. This trust equity creates a platform for inviting others into a new type of conversation with deeper meaning. Leaders who have earned high levels of respect and who have demonstrated solid success therefore have more room to maneuver in introducing thoughtful questions.

No leader can afford to simply model someone else and expect similar results. Start by asking yourself, “What is the highest and best I can do on any given day?”

A leader’s ability to become a catalyst for transformational change increases when devoting quality time to the insight and clarity that stems from “being.” When unable to step off the treadmill of the “doing” role, the leader is pulled into daily work on incremental change for operational survival and sustainability.

Ken Hubbell's graphic illustration of our leadership discussion
Graphic illustration of our leadership discussion

Few social sector leaders have the luxury of being able to exclusively focus on one role or the other. They must balance both.

Imagine, too, the leader’s ability to refocus and reinvent their role and their organization’s response when inspired by these bigger questions. This shift requires organizational leaders to talk, think, and work together in new ways in order to develop a shared commitment to something new, something truly integrated. It requires investments of time and energy. It often requires a catalyst. Our current environment is calling for us to ask a different set of questions.

Who leads the conversation that leads us to a reshaped world?


*From the chapter, Give Up On the Myth of Control, in Ten Things To Do in a Conceptual Emergency, 2003, International Futures Forum, 8.

Illustration by Ken Hubbell

Philanthropy in a Systems Context

In the eyes of many system based development professionals, intra-system competition for resources becomes disruptive and limiting, evoking a huge personal energy drain to negotiate around these different areas. Amidst the complexity and intra-system competition, social sector and philanthropy professionals are looking for new meaning, new navigation tools. About what in our organization have we reached true clarity?  What are we trying to be? What’s possible for us now?

Where are the places to intervene in a system in order to create a stronger platform for philanthropy and what must leaders do? First, it seems we must come to understand that, through our attitudes and our choices, we each have a role in the system’s continuance.  Recognizing that some may always have more power and latitude to act, each person has an individual role in the system. In the aggregate, systems are constantly seeking stability through fluctuations, resistance, and adjustments that involve the system and its larger environment. Systems generate feedback that can trigger changes in behavior, and understanding the feedback and its relationship to the deep structure of the system is an important ingredient in successful leadership.[1]

Reinforcing loops - Finding the right place to intervene in the system
Reinforcing loops - Finding the right place to intervene in the system. Illustration by Ken Hubbell

“The challenge, the hope, and the imperative are to maintain the “we” proposition, so a win for one is a win for the entire organization.” Optimal leverage is possible precisely at the juncture of two systems loops (creating shared identity/cultural coherence) combined with higher levels of trust. This is the pure domain of collective leadership.

A compelling organizational vision has the power to attract philanthropy and, once coupled, together they have the power to change the conversation of what is possible for systems. Environmental factors and competitive forces often create a tendency for system leaders to stay locked into the top (negative) feedback loop, whereas development folks have to live in the positive reinforcing loop for their success. If we can harness the volunteer’s interest and liberate people and build community around that, it creates the gravitational pull for charitable giving, which changes the nature and impact of philanthropy.

So, we concluded that, despite all the apparent “noise” and “chaos” from systems, development efforts are strongest when emanating from a coherent organization, one with a strong sense of “we” and a widely shared identity. Arguably, the greatest opportunity for change within systems is also the hardest to achieve—changing the hearts and minds of players within the system.

The question of “Who is my first team” becomes a powerful lever for individual leadership decision making and action. Even in the most dysfunctional organizations, issues often foster introspective questions. “So, what can I do? What one action can I take that affects this set of issues? With whom will I start having a different kind of conversation in my organization?” If everyone on your first team is equally committed to the relationship, there may be an opening for a very different type of a conversation organizationally. This new type of conversation may be the kind to produce greater alignment of hearts and minds.


This is an excerpt from the upcoming monograph I’ve edited, In Search of New Meaning: Philanthropy, Community, and Society. It is a synthesis of essays and conversation from social sector and philanthropy leaders who participated in our think tank, Conversation 2009.

[1] Virginia Anderson and Lauren Johnson, (1997). System Thinking Basics. Pegasus Communications, Inc.

Re-Imagining the Future of Philanthropy

In late April, a dozen social sector and philanthropy leaders from North America joined me for Conversation 2009. Prior to convening this think tank format, each of us wrote an essay on one of the four topics we co-developed. Those essays and a synthesis of our conversation will be published this fall by On The Cusp Publishing. Until then, I’ll post a snippet from each of the four topics over the next few weeks. Today’s post reflects our discussion on re-imagining the future of philanthropy. My thanks to these gifted colleagues for sharing the best of their experience and wisdom.

By whatever name, we’re in a crisis that demands individual behavioral change.

Illustration by Ken Hubbell
Illustration by Ken Hubbell

A societal shift is taking place (transformation/sea change/evolution…) that is both influencing and influenced by generational personalities, fostering a shift in what people value, and pulling us to reframe our approaches.

Development officers and philanthropists are being drawn to more “whole” thinking rather than through the silos of a single organization or through the lens of immediacy. Philanthropy professionals and philanthropists (volunteers and donors) will be more focused on what is relevant and right and what is good for the community (the system). They will increasingly bring together allied professionals to ask questions about whole change. Organizations with the courage to have both, integrated, and shared visions will lead. Philanthropy professionals and philanthropists will ask less often “how should we” and more often “should we”, which will subtlely change the look, feel, practice and language of philanthropy (influenced by the Millennials).

Senior professionals are being called upon to provide leadership to the longer view and asking the “right” questions…..called upon to help lead organizational leaders to new ways of thinking…..called upon to engage philanthropists (people with a giving heart) to partner with them for positive change.


Full disclosure: On The Cusp Publishing is owned and operated by Gary J. Hubbell

Illustration by Ken Hubbell

Gary Hubbell Consulting Conversation 2009

With the Camelback Mountains behind us, a clear blue desert sky above, and surrounded by the beautifully manicured grounds of the Westin Kierland Scottsdale, 12 social sectors leaders joined us last week for Conversation 2009. We came together in search of some respite from our respective professional treadmills and the desire for more critical thinking and a deeper dialogue about philanthropy and the future.

Four topics provided the framework for original essays submitted in advance and for the ensuing conversation. Our first full day of discussion explored “Re-imagining the Future of Philanthropy” and “Demonstrating and Communicating the Impact of Philanthropy.” Central observations included:

  1. The two most important and uncertain driving forces are the length and impact of the recession on the economy and the levels of innovation and collaboration in philanthropy. How these forces combine may produce a significant sea change in society and in philanthropy.
  2. A renewed belief that we must ask “should we” rather than simply “can we” as we seek to discern the right solutions and harness the power and energy of philanthropy.
  3. Impact is greatest when there is authentic alignment with our hearts, values, and missions coupled with the courage to ask what are the highest and best uses of philanthropy.

The second full day saw the discussion move to “New Perspectives on Leadership” and “Philanthropy in a Systems Context.” Among the powerful ideas that emerged were the following:

  1. Leaders are the bridge between vision and action, between being and doing. They liberate people, create community, and foster trust, a shared identity, and coherence.
  2. Multi-institutional systems and any organizational system tends to exhibit constant tension between negative and positive recurring loops of behavior. Finding the right place to intervene in the system can break the negative reinforcing loop, bringing greater alignment and new opportunities for philanthropy.
  3. Who leaders determine comprise their “first team” largely determines the freedom and their capacity to have a more strategic and integrated conversation that fosters change.

Many personal comments by participants affirmed the value of the gathering. Among them, one person felt Conversation 2009 had reinforced the sense of philanthropy as a noble professional. Another individual likened the learning and professional transformation to the result of studying Zen: “Before studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. After studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. The difference is that I now view each with my feet a few inches off the ground.”

The rich and diverse talent in the room made for a truly insightful gathering. Without question, the Conversation mandala created by Ken Hubbell in real time during our discussion became a visual map of our discussion and a great opportunity to see the connectivity of ideas.

My many thanks to the participants/contributors. From left to right, they are:

  • Mary Reinders – Reinders Research (Wisconsin)
  • Yvonne McCoy – Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)
  • Susan Ruddy – Providence Alaska Foundation (Alaska)
  • Marv Baldwin – Foods Resource Bank (Illinois)
  • Megan Olson – University of Alaska-Anchorage (Alaska)
  • Bruce Karstadt – American Swedish Institute (Minnesota)
  • Joe Zanetta – Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation (California)
  • Shari Scales  – George Fox University (Oregon)
  • Pearl Veenema – Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation (Ontario)
  • Ken Bartels – Elmhurst College (Illinois)
  • Ken Hubbell – Ken Hubbell & Associates (Arkansas)
  • Cathy Girard – Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin (Wisconsin)
  • Tom Soma – Ronald McDonald House Charities (Oregon)
  • Gary Hubbell – Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)
Conversation '09 participants
Conversation '09 participants