Pointed Reflections From a Long-Time Leader in Philanthropy

In her last public act before retirement, Valerie S. Lies, the long-time president and CEO of the Donors Forum in Chicago, took the opportunity to speak truth to power and to leave the field that she so loves with several calls for action. I share a summary of her remarks here in the hope that these candid observations from such a respected leader will spark some reflections among those of us still active in philanthropy. Based on what she said, included below are some questions to contemplate at a future team meeting or while having a drink with a colleague.

Fund what nonprofits need most. Valerie echoed a call to action that Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and others have frequently issued: Funders should prioritize general operating support, multiyear support and funding the full direct and indirect costs of programmatic grants. A great deal of evidence reinforces the fact that not only do nonprofits need this kind of support to succeed, but also that restrictive, short-term funding can actually harm the financial health of grantees. What would your highest-performing grantees do if they had flexible, reliable support? How might you best start the conversation at your foundation about the type of funding nonprofits need most?