In 1993, well before I left my job as CEO of Applied Materials, my wife Becky and I started our family foundation. Giving brings us joy. At the same time, we thought giving locally was important in Silicon Valley, where great need exists alongside great wealth.

Becky and I wanted to identify good nonprofits and support their work. We sought to work directly with those who were involved in the spaces where we wanted to make a difference. As a result, we became more active and involved givers—much like investors. Additionally, we founded two successful nonprofits: the Northern Sierra Partnership and California Stewardship Network.

Here are some of the valuable lessons we learned in our nearly three decades operating the foundation:
Navigating funder-grantee dynamics

  • Respect grantees by not micromanaging. Understand that nonprofit staff are experts in their respective fields. Listen to what they’re telling you. It is critical to mission success.
  • Consciously reduce the power dynamic that’s inherent in grantee-funder relationships by being approachable, asking questions and listening well.
  • Be willing to tackle problems from a new angle. Learn and experiment alongside nonprofit partners. Nonprofits appreciate your ability to be bold, flexible and risk-ready.
  • Carefully select which metrics to track and why. While data can tell an effective story, it can also de-humanize people. Likewise, requiring excessive data puts a burden on busy staff.
  • Respect other people’s time. Simplify RFPs, and use conversations and visits to make decisions on granting funds.
  • Identify the exit strategy for your grants. In order to help grantees avoid fiscal cliffs, step down support through multiyear exit plans when possible. Be clear and give ample warning when it’s time to stop grants to an organization, whatever the reason.

Read the full article about winding down a foundation by Jim Morgan at Exponent Philanthropy.