On Tuesday, February 5, 2013, Variety New York released the publication of their white paper, “The Art of Adding Value: Variety New York’s High Touch, High Impact Philanthropic Model,” written by Jessica Bynoe, Executive Director of Variety New York. The release of the white paper included a panel and reception hosted by BNY Mellon Wealth Management. Over fifty individuals from foundations, community organizations, as well as Variety New York’s Board Members, Young Variety Members and grantees attended the panel and reception. The evening began with opening remarks from Doris P. Meister, President of BNY Mellon’s U.S. Markets. Panelists included Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Lorraine Marasigan, Program Officer at The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO), Cheryl Green Rosario, Director of Philanthropy at American Express, and Colin Smith, Executive Director of Change for Kids.
Jessica Bynoe introduced the key points of the white paper and explained that while Variety New York’s philanthropic model was proving to be highly successful for the foundation, there are many models for non-profits to adhere to and the key is to recognize which works best for the individual foundation. She noted that Variety New York’s focus on grassroots organizations came out of a change in focus from larger, more recognized non-profits, to smaller more community based organizations. In “The Art of Adding Value,” she writes, “It may be safer and less risky to support larger, more established organizations, but if we are trying to achieve real change, we must support those solutions which are born in and by the communities most afflicted.” Lorraine Marasigan commented that this focus on grassroots organizations also worked well for FCYO because it allowed them to assess the unique needs of the communities they provided funding in. Cheryl Green Rosario spoke of the difficulties that corporate funders have in working on a grassroots level, but how American Express was using other methods, such as engaging local groups on collaborative endeavors to make an impact at the community level.
Another core point to the model that was discussed was the move from an unbalanced funder/grantee relationship to one where equity is sought out and promoted. Jessica noted that Variety New York hosts monthly value-added workshops for grantees to come together, learn from experts, as well as from each other to enhance their organizational systems and practices. She explained that Variety New York established an open door policy with grantees in hopes of creating a more equitable relationship. Ben Cameron agreed that a funder operating in an opaque manner could not expect full transparency from a grantee. He noted that a relationship of trust and understanding between funder and grantee is very difficult to create because of the innate power imbalance of who is providing the funds and who is applying for funding. He recommended that foundations should be as clear as possible about their funding policies, procedures and expectations in order to be respectful of grantees time and resources.
In the white paper, Jessica writes, “If we are honest about the current limitations of philanthropy and develop relationships and investment partnerships that recognize the power dynamics and work to address them, we can build and inform a better approach.” Colin Smith spoke to that point, having transitioned from the finance industry to the non-profit sector. He noted that metrics and evaluation results from grassroots organizations can be very robust, but that overall community and social change is a slow process that needs to be nourished and allowed to unfold naturally. He also spoke of how difficult it was for grassroots organizations to obtain operating support from funders and donors which often impeded their efficiency and their ability to communicate their successes.
With the release of this paper and last night’s event, Variety New York hopes to inspire new thinking about philanthropy and new practices that can improve funder/grantee relationships and outcomes. A digital version of Variety New York’s white paper, “The Art of Adding Value,” is available on our website for download.