News

The Creative Tension of Intention

 

Many years ago, I learned the concept of “Structural Tension” from Robert Fritz, one of the founders of Innovation Associates along with Peter Senge, a company dedicated to helping people build organizations using principles of the creative process. I often refer to it as “Creative Tension,” because that phrase is readily understandable by children. Yes, you can teach this to children. Here is how it works.

Stretch a rubber band between your two hands so that one hand is on top of the other. Imagine that your bottom hand represents current reality (the way things are) and your top hand represents your vision (what you would like to see in the world). Notice the tension in the rubber band. This is energy created by holding current reality and vision simultaneously, and it is this tension—this energy—that allows us to create the results we want. If you let go of either end of the rubber band, you will notice that there no longer is energy in the system. All you have is a limp rubber band.

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Adaptive Learning Exercises News

A Pop Princess Helped My Foundation Articulate Our Values

 

What would you say if I told you Katy Perry helped me facilitate my most recent foundation board meeting? Not impressed? Perhaps you’re more of a Taylor Swift fan. Honestly, I’m #TeamTaylor too, but Katy felt more appropriate for my board at this time.

Why? Let me take a few steps back.

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Adaptive Learning Blind Spots Collaboration News

Philanthropists in a Hurry: The Risks of Unhealthy Boundaries and the Rush to Results (Part 2)

 

In the first part of this series, we discussed some of the rookie mistakes my team and I made when we started working to end family homelessness in the Pacific Northwest. Our impatience for impact led us to skip some of the vital relationship building and buy-in processes vital to achieving our goals. Philanthropy works through partners, but sometimes we forget that means strengthening the partnership aspects first.

What are the lessons learned from this?  First and foremost, it’s about the relationships and boundaries we need to maintain as funders.  Our grantees will always take our phone calls and meetings, and always smile and nod when we share new ideas or express our sense of urgency – even when they may not agree with our thinking and would very much prefer that we back the heck off.  Our shoe size is so large that it’s really easy for us to step on the toes of our partners; vigilance and patience is required, even as the pressure we feel to get to impact raises our anxiety levels.

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Mindfulness

Embracing the Practice of Presence

 

Before beginning my career in philanthropy, I spent several years completing a master’s degree in divinity and training to become an interfaith hospital chaplain. Contrary to the images that might come to mind—solemn priests giving last rites or quoting scripture at the bedside, for instance—at its core, chaplaincy is a relational practice of presence and reflection.

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News

Philanthropists in a Hurry: The Risks of Unhealthy Boundaries and the Rush to Results (Part 1)

 

We philanthropy practitioners are, by nature, an impatient group of optimists, and sometimes our impatience can get the better of us.  This happens when we’re in such a hurry to see impact that we fail to recognize unhealthy boundaries related to our role in the change process, don’t clearly identify and plan for the challenges and obstacles in the path ahead, skip important steps in the process of systems change, or disregard the readiness of our partners to assume responsibility for the tasks we ask them to undertake.

Developing healthy relationships in our sector can be particularly challenging; grantees and partners tend to think of us (or at least treat us to our faces) as smarter and savvier than we actually are, and when we buy into this mythology ourselves it becomes that much harder to cultivate candid communication and encourage the porous boundaries that should be the hallmark of true grant maker/grantee partnerships.

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News

“It’s Not Magic; It’s Intentionality”: Janis Reischmann Talks About Her Reflective Practices with Mark Sedway

Mark Sedway: What does reflective practice mean to you?

Janis Reischmann: To me, reflective practice in philanthropy means we—practitioners in philanthropy—are employing techniques or tools to intentionally step back and explore what’s happening in processes, especially difficult ones, and using the answers to those questions to improve or sharpen our practice. It also says to me that the field is mindful of the role the individual plays in the craft of philanthropy…that it is not just about data, money, strategies or deadlines. The personhood we bring to philanthropy is an important element and is worth developing and sharpening.

MS: What reflective practices do you use in your work to do that stepping back and exploring?

JR: One practice I use is a non-traditional form of journaling. I use it before, during and after meetings and events in different kinds of ways. When I’m feeling really anxious and overloaded, it can be a pause to make a list of what’s making me anxious and suddenly I feel I have a handle on it. Sometimes I feel too busy to take even two minutes to do this, but of course I’m not. In advance of a meeting, I’ll outline my thoughts and jot down words or phrase I want to communicate. During a meeting, I’m better if I can jot down thoughts. It crystalizes things for me and helps me to focus more in the moment. Sometimes I’ll offer a summary of what I just heard to see if I’m tracking. After a meeting I do better if I do summary notes. It helps me process what occurred and think about what’s next. It’s a summarizing practice.

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News

One-hundred-eighty-degree Seeing

 

We all know that foundations are very powerful. Part of the challenge of philanthropy is how grantmakers listen to circumstances on the ground, versus imposing a cookie-cutter approach to incite deeper collaboration with grantees, while developing a more complex appreciation for their partners and how these different actors are connected within an individual landscape.

My goal as a grantmaker was to empower the grantee to take ownership of planning the grant so that the work and investment could be owned by the grantee. Doing so required letting go of control and trusting in the partnership as a learning opportunity for the foundation.

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