President’s Message: A Fresh Look at Strategic Philanthropy

It’s true, time flies. I know this because I will be celebrating my two-year anniversary with the Endowment in a few months. In this time, I continue to be awed by our government agencies and nonprofits who relentlessly provide for their clients while striving to support themselves. Their fortitude and creativity in addressing the needs of our neighbors is remarkable. At the same time, I have increasing respect for what is required to be an effective funder. It’s not easy to be strategic as we work toward measurable outcomes – all while being a responsible fiduciary. To do this work well, I am grateful to have the strength and expertise of an incredible Board of Directors and staff who are creative, open and adaptable to the ever-changing world we all live in.

This past spring, our board and staff read the book Unicorns Unite that calls for funders to use their voice and credibility in new ways, such as influencing policy and advocating for special audiences. The book’s premise meshed perfectly with our Board’s decision in December 2018 to provide funding to NC Child, El Pueblo and the NC Counts Coalition to support their planning and implementation of the national census, which will happen in 2020.

In October of last year, just nine months ago, we announced our Strategic Roadmap, the guide for our philanthropic future. In charting our path, we are encouraged to take different approaches to our grantmaking. One way you’ll see our foundation changing is that we will be more proactive and take a stronger stance in our advocacy efforts. Funding the national census work is an example of the Endowment acting outside of our typical competitive grantmaking.  The results of the census are critical and will affect the next 10 years’ worth of funding for vulnerable children’s programs and services.  As champions for children it is imperative that we do what we can to make sure there are sufficient legislative seats to represent the state, as well as funding for important programs and services helping all of the state’s vulnerable children and families, not just those in Wake County.

Meanwhile, summer is often a good time for organizations to reflect on and evaluate how well they are doing with internal processes, and that’s certainly true at John Rex Endowment. On our list is a review of application requirements and grant reporting to see how we can be more efficient for grantees and ourselves without losing effectiveness, value and accountability.  In addition, our board and staff have committed to learning more deeply about race and equity and specifically what it means to us as a funder and community partner. We’ll be looking at all of our internal and external processes and actions through an equity lens. It’s an important journey and there is a lot for us to learn. We hope you will join us.

Also, our January Request for Proposals showed us that we must think more about the different ways to support nonprofits whose programs focus upon multi factors that influence children’s health and well-being. Instead of offering a competitive grant cycle in the fall of 2019 we will instead focus on other ways to provide support – through convening, advocacy and collaborations with our community partners. We will use this time to reflect on what we’ve learned and continue to go out into the community to continue our learning. I encourage you to watch our website for future announcements of our funding opportunities.

We proudly refer to ourselves as a learning organization - one that constantly strives to improve based on insights gained from all experiences – and it is essential to our ability to be effective. It’s in our Values. And as you can see, while many things are the same, our organization is evolving.  Thank you for standing by us as we work together to create an environment where children are safe, healthy and living to their full potential.