Funders with few or no staff are perfectly positioned to catalyze change on urgent issues. With a few dollars and a wealth of local knowledge and relationships, Exponent Philanthropy members have: catalyzed reform of a state’s juvenile justice system, increased access to nursing care for new and expectant mothers, and created statewide coalitions to focus dollars and attention on the needs of young children.

As they work, catalytic funders connect people and organizations, and build networks for greater participation in decision making.

This August, we invited six catalytic funders to train their peers. They shared that catalytic work begins when the five to 10 people who lead a small foundation come to an agreement on a very specific vision for change. Board and staff need to dedicate a significant portion of time and money to a specific, targeted outcome — one that is much more focused than most traditional foundation missions.

Focusing deeply is challenging for many foundations. And catalytic funders say that coming to an agreement happens when foundation board and staff are highly engaged with grantees and their community, and learn about a specific need, gap, or leverage point where foundation dollars, relationships, and voice can make a big difference.

To learn about issues that are important and ignored, or to identify creative solutions, immersion in the community is essential.

It takes time to develop an understanding of a system, where it breaks down, or what new, promising solutions might be emerging. Also, if you engage grantees and community members over time, and demonstrate an authentic desire to listen and learn, people are more likely to be honest with you and share needs, gaps, and creative solutions that will never appear in formal grant applications.

Read the full article about becoming a catalytic funder by Andy Carroll at Exponent Philanthropy.