Note from Beth: I’m hosting a small army of guest bloggers, grantmakers, who are attending the GeoFunders National Conference taking place this week in Seattle. The GEO community is united by a common drive to challenge the norm in pursuit of better results. GEO’s 2012 National Conference shares a range of perspectives and new ideas for smarter grantmaking that leads to better results and presents opportunities for participants to learn from the wisdom and experience of their peers. If you’re not attending and curious what funders are learning, you’ll have an opportunity to read some of the ideas and questions being discussed right here on this blog.
Don’t Bring Your Phone in the Shower – guest post by Carrie Avery
This morning’s breakfast plenary speaker, Jonah Lehrer, was fantastic. He spoke about creativity and what psychologists and brain scientists are learning about it. I wont’t try to summarize the entire talk here, but the most important takeaways for me as a funder were:
1. Seek outsider knowledge. Some of the greatest breakthroughs arrive when people who are outside the traditional structure take a look at a problem. Like-minded folks can accomplish a lot, and expertise is not to be undervalued, but sometimes they can hit roadblocks. A fresh approach from an outsider can often break through those roadblocks. The lesson: create environments where un-alike people can interact, sometimes at purposeful meetings, sometimes in the bathroom.
How does this apply to funders? At the Durfee Foundation, we bring together nonprofit leaders from different fields to work on intractable problems in the Los Angeles region. They each have discrete projects in the own fields, but they work within a cohort of fellows from a variety of fields. So the CEO of a medical clinic trades ideas about technology with the head of a children’s advocacy organization, and the environmental leader gets to know the inner-city organizer. Through the fellowship cohort, unlikely alliances develop and ideas are strengthened.
2. Learn to relax. Moments of insight arrive when we are not sitting in our offices looking at our computer, but rather when we are on a walk, in the shower or otherwise allowing our minds to wander. It seems counterintuitive that we can accomplish more when we take a break, but it’s true.
This is an area where funders can have a huge impact. Nonprofit leaders, like most Americans, are programmed to think that the answer to every problem is to spend more time working away in the same way. More hours, more coffee. Funders can encourage leaders to take time off, to think, to explore creative solutions to problems by funding sabbaticals, fellowships and other forms of leadership development.
At the Durfee Foundation, we have been talking about the benefits of Possibility Grantmaking: providing funding with high expectations about performance, but low level of funder control over how the grantee spends his or her time or even what the final product is. The Stanton Fellowship asks six fellows from diverse fields to work on solving an intractable problem in LA. We choose the fellows carefully, but we want them to find their own path to a solution. Sometimes the first year’s work has to be scrapped, but that’s okay. We have joked internally that Durfee’s tagline should be: Funding Failure Since 1960. It’s good for a laugh, but the truth is that the freedom we give our grantees to fail and regroup can produce some extraordinary results.
How can we get more funders to support creativity? This is where our work can have a disproportionate impact.
Carrie Avery is president of the Durfee Foundation, a family foundation in Los Angeles, California.