‘Tis the season …to reflect back on the year and think about what has been accomplished, learned, left undone, and perhaps most brutally, what didn’t work out as planned. I had a hefty bucket of things I wanted to do in 2014. One of those, at the urging of my colleagues, was to begin a regular blog. I do get some points for my monthly President’s Messages here in Family Giving News but as I’m not one to wimp out, I still have 14 days, 14 hours and 44 minutes to realize my last unmet New Year’s Resolution!

Maybe it’s one of my many quirks, but I really enjoy reflection and interpretation/assessment. I find it enormously helpful and even (mostly) gratifying. It’s a terrific learning experience. I think I became more conscious of this during the ten years Paul Ylvisaker served as senior consultant to me and the grantmaker education department I managed. Paul would come to town every month or so and, inevitably, he would sit in my office and ask me what I had failed at recently. Fortunately, I usually had something to tell him but if I didn’t, he would ask me if I were trying hard enough. He wanted to know if I were pushing the edges of my responsibilities to include new knowledge and new strategies. If I were coloring too much inside the lines, how would I know if I could do more and do it smarter and better?

I am in that looking back/learning more mode now. One of the first things I did when the National Center for Family Philanthropy was founded was to convene a President’s Committee of Board members to help me both think about how my goals for the past year had worked out and how that might influence work in the next year. This annual self-evaluation is next on my “to do” list!

More and more of you tell me you very much want to know if your grantmaking strategy is making a difference. Have you been having the impact you intended? Many families are interested in knowing if any “course correction” is in order as a result of transitions in the family, the governance, the giving areas, and management. Given this interest, I encourage donor families to take stock now or at any point in the year that makes sense. Some have different fiscal calendars, some have different programming schedules, and others get together at a different time of the year. For most, this is the perfect time.

If you’ve regularly built in assessment, a more sophisticated evaluation process may help you refine your programs and practices. Maybe it is time to take on a grantee perception review? For those just putting your toe in the water of reflection and assessment, maybe you start with the basics. Convene your own conversation group (board, family, staff, and/or advisors?) and ask what you’ve learned this year. What did you accomplish? What surprised you? Were there any special developments in your giving area that could affect your strategy? What didn’t go as well as planned?

Finally, what does all that say about your goals for the coming year? Early in the New Year, as the next phase of your conversation, determine what you’d like to accomplish in the year. By doing so, you’ll have a benchmark for an even more productive conversation at this time next year.

By getting in the reflection and planning pattern, I know you’ll enjoy your work more and realize all the benefits of being a true learning organization. You will appreciate more how you are making the world a better place and how you might make it even better.

Whether this holiday season includes reflection and learning, year-end grantmaking, or just enjoying family and giving, know that I speak for the Board and Staff of NCFP when I say it is a privilege and pleasure to support your grantmaking journey. I’m so very grateful for your work on behalf of the causes and communities you serve. I wish you great joy throughout the holidays and in the New Year.


P.S. For those of you in our Friends and Leadership Circle networks, there's still a little over a month to take advantage of our very special offer of FREE use of our Pursuit of Excellence Board Self-Assessment Tool.  Contact jason@ncfp.org for additional details!