How many of us have read multiple reports and articles that encourage foundations to provide more unrestricted and multiyear grants? And how often are we reminded that the shift away from restricted project grants has made minimal progress?
I’d like to make a friendly proposal to address this. What if foundation presidents, trustees, and program officers each selected one grantee whose work they care about…and asked to shadow the CEO of that organization for one full day?
I recall a dozen years ago meeting a smart, thoughtful gentleman who wanted to use his career experience with starting, growing, and investing in successful for-profit businesses to help nonprofits scale up and achieve greater impact. He spent the next year working closely with a dozen or so organizations and found himself describing with a bit of shock and awe the work of nonprofit CEOs as “black diamond management.”
What is a “black diamond?” At the time I learned it was a ski reference. Here’s a helpful definition I found recently from a blog post on Outdoor Tech:
- Black Diamonds: What They Mean: These runs will have steep gradients exceeding 40 percent and are considered difficult.
- Black Diamonds: What They Really Mean: These runs are where you can get a little peace and quiet, except for the screaming. They are either very steep, full of bumps, or both. You don’t have to be an expert to ski these but that would help, along with a lot of confidence. Alcohol helps, too.
The smart, thoughtful investor went on to say that managing a nonprofit is in many ways much harder than managing a Fortune 500 company. I may be exaggerating — it was 12 years ago — but the basic idea holds value.
I posit that if every foundation president, trustee, and program officer spent one day shadowing a grantee CEO they would witness “black diamond” management firsthand. And maybe it would help them reconsider their foundations’ grantmaking processes and the types of grants they are willing to offer. This might not lead to a wholesale revolution of multiyear general operating support for all, but I have to believe it’s worth trying — and I have confidence that some real good for the field could come from it. I hope it won’t necessitate alcohol consumption, though…
For maximum benefit, I’d suggest that grantee CEOs be asked to conduct a shadow day as they would any other, with no special red-carpet activities.
Read the full article about shadow a grantee CEO day by Rodney Christopher at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.