Ideas from the Road: Two Creative Ways to Make the Systemization a Little Easier
Alice Ayres, MBA
I had the pleasure of spending time with a large system this week, working with them on their plan for a closer integration of their foundations and the strategic thinking to increase their performance systemwide.
I was struck by how hard this work is. Determining a path to integrate the right areas, including consolidating back office functions like accounting and finance, HR, board governance, and marketing, offers a real opportunity to reduce overhead and focus on developing, cultivating, and stewarding relationships with donors.
On the other hand, it presents challenges both in terms of culture and maintaining a local flavor in communications, outreach, and donor relations. Getting this right is a balancing act. (For those of you who are engaged in this work and looking for actionable solutions, our book “Systemization and Regionalization” is a great resource.)
More than anything, I was impressed by the creativity of this group. They were tackling tough challenges with an openness and an understanding of what would work in their culture and structure. They had lots of great thoughts, but there are two ideas that stood out to me:
- In order to engage your other partners (C-suite members and boards), consider using a “contract” that spells out what your philanthropy team promises to deliver, along with what your philanthropy team is asking of your partner in return. Think of it as a way to answer two questions: “What do we promise in support of your work in philanthropy?” and “What should your partner’s work in philanthropy entail?” Then have both parties sign it as a way of cementing the partnership, adding weight to the work.
- Establish centers of excellence across the system around key areas of philanthropy work. Take planned giving as an example. There may be people across the system who spend more time or have a greater amount of expertise in estate planning. Identify them, and have them become part of a virtual team available to everyone doing this work as they encounter issues or have questions.
There are lots of other hurdles, both big and small, to overcome as foundations and systems come together. AHP continues to work to help. We’re already underway on a set of suggestions around recruiting and retaining talent, including suggesting standard titling and possible parameters for bonus compensation. Please let us know if you are engaged in this work and where you are struggling. Our goal is to create content that helps us all get to a great outcome faster. Send suggestions to me at alice [at] ahp.org.