Six business principles applicable to philanthropy


Leena Dandekar


For most new philanthropists, making the transition from the corporate world to philanthropy can be intimidating. At first, it seems like they are opposing worlds with starkly contrasting objectives: one is motivated by profits while the other by creating positive social impact. I have realized, however, that the core skillsets of business are essential to making philanthropy more efficient and effective.

Here are six business skills that helped me successfully make the transition and start my own foundation:

Prior to taking the plunge into the development sector, I committed myself to an entire year of intensive market research to identify key ecosystem players and pipelines. I took the time to acquire knowledge and insights into how to approach rural development in India. I began by studying the issues, saw initiatives on the field, spoke to activists, funders, communities and mentors.

These learning trips refined my goals, highlighted organizations who are carrying out similar work, and the right NGOs for me to partner with. This led to the formation of Raintree Foundation and our model for creating thriving, resilient, natural ecosystems and rural communities. Our Approach was based on secondary research from partner organizations and extensive primary research with the communities. We concluded that restoring the balance between ecology and economy for prosperity through a partnership-based, community-led model was the way forward.

Investing in people
Building an experienced team means having people who can further your vision and support you on your journey. But, having the right internal team is just the beginning.

Our work involves working with rural communities and our goal is to empower them enough through trainings to guide the development process. Creating leadership within the community and champions for the cause, especially within women and youth who can take it further and keep it going for a long time is instrumental.

Partnerships and alliances
Once you have your core internal team in order, the next step is to clarify your goals and philanthropic objectives. It’s vital to set up connections, affiliations and partnerships externally as well. The alliances you forge can be instrumental to your success and bring in efficiencies.

As a young organisation without a proven track record, it was difficult to find credible partnerships. To address this challenge, we developed a two-pronged partnership strategy: Developing knowledge partnerships with national and globally recognised NGOs and foundations with long track records. Upon learning that these partners have helped us with program design and best practices, implementers with deeper local market understanding have also been eager to work with us to learn from these large knowledge partners.

Checks and balances
Make yourself accountable by setting up governance structures, third party evaluators, and a set of mentors and advisors, whose guidance you regularly seek can go a long way. Go out of your way to update them in a transparent manner, sharing both successes and failures to get honest feedback. We have often had to go back to the drawing board and rethink our approach, but it has always been constructive and pointed us in the right direction.

Systems and processes
Having financial, HR, administrative and other procedures alongside a monitoring and evaluation system will help a foundation remain organized, efficient and growth oriented. For example, after completing our first project building watersheds and restoring wells for rural communities, we conducted a baseline survey to understand the present needs of the community and best way forward.

As an organizational process, it is also important to set up an accessible culture which is inclusive while hiring and allows for a variety of perspectives. Everyone should be provided the opportunity to contribute and lead. The same inclusive approach should be taken when working with the community, which will help them groom leaders and allow people to take responsibility at all levels.

Depth vs scale
While there is a lot of focus on scale among philanthropists in the initial years, we chose to focus on depth instead. We have chosen to go deep into the issue and tackle it at its roots over a significant period. We are piloting our model and approach in a limited area in a patient manner to optimize our methods through our learnings. Once you have piloted your ideas, learned from failures and adapted to a model that shows results, you can scale your efforts and share your knowledge for maximum impact.

Leena Dandekar is founder of Raintree Foundation

This article was originally published on the AVPN blog on 9 October 2019. The original article can be viewed here.

Tagged in: Funding practice

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