Adding Value

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

We have come to think of our grants as investments, similar to those we make in the financial markets. When we invest in a new organization or idea we are, in effect, venture investors. Like our counterparts in the financial marketplace, we can usually add value by giving our grantee something in addition to money. We might provide specialized knowledge. Sometimes we connect a grantee with another organization or person. We regularly convene meetings of grantee partners so that they can learn from each other and others in their field of endeavor. Often we just show up to meet students or help our grantees raise money.

The idea of adding value seems good. But there are at least two competing policy considerations. First, we pride ourselves on being “lean and mean.” We have a small staff and our expense to size ratio is about 35% lower than the median. Second, we do not want to undertake work that someone else can do better. So we have to be selective about the activities in which we involve ourselves.

As the Foundation matures and gains experience, its ability to add value to grants increases. Here are some examples in the last three weeks. In Seattle, we brought Pathways together with Levi Esquerra and Carlana Lindeman. Pathways is now working in Winnipeg, where many of its students will be Aboriginals. Sam Duboc, Chair and Co-founder of Pathways has since told me that these introductions were even more valuable to Pathways than our grant.

In Denver the Foundation convened its annual meeting of grantee partners in the Tribal College Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program. Levi Esquerra attended this meeting also and, in addition to peer activities, the participating colleges and universities had an opportunity to learn about the Seven Generation Money Management Game.

Many expressed the desire to adapt and deliver this game to their students. In Orlando we attended a luncheon honoring the 2014 Class of Johnson Scholars in the Direct Connect program.

An indication of the importance of this event is the participation of the Presidents of Valencia, Seminole and Lake Sumter Colleges and Vice-Presidents from Eastern College and University of Central Florida. The President of Valencia College, Dr. Sandy Shugart, gave a wonderful keynote speech and we also were given the opportunity to address the students. Four of our Directors attended this event, spent time talking with students and faculty and then sat down and had lunch with them. Their presence and participation inspired both the students and the Direct Connect partner institutions serving them.

In West Palm Beach we convened a meeting of potential stakeholders in the Johnson Scholars Program. Guests included the Helios Foundation, Take Stock in Children – Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Florida, the Palm Beach County School District, Palm Beach County United Way, the Farris Foundation and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. Convening and persuading a consortium of potential funders is more difficult and we lack staff resources but it is necessary if we are to continue our program in the Palm Beach Schools.

Adding value to our grant investments will continue to increase in importance. More activity comes at a cost, however, and in a time of skinny or negative investment returns, the discussions and decisions on how we add value will also be important.