Financial thrivability helps entities do transformative work

Posted on October 19, 2011 by Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation

We've shared our philosophy about instilling financial thrivability in our work - it is part of our DNA. (If you missed it, here is a quick read on the difference between sustainability and thrivability).

To that end, we are open to learning and sharing with others who are exploring this approach. Following an announcement about our $2 million match to seed an endowment for Bringing Science Home, a partnership with USF Health that helps people with chronic conditions live more optimistically, we were contacted by Jean Russell, a philanthropy writer and editor and a consultant who works in the thrivability space. 

The following are excerpts from Jean's thoughts on the financial thrivability approach.

I was so excited by what I read on the press release that I contacted the foundation to open a dialogue. I have been working as a writer and editor in philanthropy since 2003, and I co-founded Inspired Legacies, a donor education organization catalyzing millions of dollars in philanthropy. And I have been, in that space, particularly interested in innovative forms of philanthropy, so for me, this was doubly exciting. I spoke with The Patterson Foundation's interim COO, Michael Corley.

So often in the philanthropic world, grantees receive gifts on an annual basis or on a short-term cycle (such as three years). Executive directors in small organizations and development staff in larger ones can devour large amounts of time and energy in a revolving cycle of chasing the next round of funding.

I have personally watched an executive director  devote 50 percent of their energy to this funds-chasing cycle (note that this is also true in startups seeking funding). This significantly detracts from the organization’s ability to act on the mission they have.

The Patterson Foundation wants to change that dynamic with their partners. Debra Jacobs, president and CEO, explains this perspective in an article entitled: Investing in endowed philanthropy to thrive for impact.

Think of it like incubation. The Patterson Foundation perceives the potential in an organization or collaboration for them to achieve financial thrivability. Over the course of two or three years, the foundation works beside the partner much like an incubator – making connections, providing appropriate consultants, building necessary software and skills as well as financial support, so that at the end of the partnership, the entity is launched and standing on its own financial viability/thrivability.

What does financial thrivability look like?

There are likely many ways that can be achieved. In the case of the press release from The Patterson Foundation, this is about creating an endowment that enables the partner to exist into perpetuity. I imagine it can also be the case if we view the philanthropy as seed capital for a social enterprise that is then enabled to grow itself.

In The Patterson Foundation blog post, it is clear they are also looking for more methods for supporting financial thrivability. Perhaps you have some ideas or suggestions that you can share with us? I have spoken with several donors who believe similar to The Patterson Foundation that the circling back year after year for more funding of programs isn’t as potent in the transformation of our world and organizations as the nudge that philanthropy can give to enable an organization to move toward more self-perpetuating financial methods.

I am eager to see more organizations working in parallel with The Patterson Foundation to incubate socially transformative entities – both by assisting with financial thrivability and by acting as partners to help organizations learn, evolve, share and take effective action. There is significant waste in the philanthropic process. And I'm excited to see lead organizations leap in to address those inefficiencies.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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