Peering Out and Peering In as We Revise Grant Guidelines

June 22, 2009

Michelle Knapik, Environment Program Director


Whew! Grant letters for three dockets (Arts, Environment and Livable Morristown) just went out the door, and the Education grant letters went out in March. That’s a year’s worth of grantmaking in six months. Team Dodge did this to make room for some serious Q2 time (i.e., the time for organizational development activities that are important, but not urgent, and all too often do not get done) .


As most grantees know, Dodge is working on the next evolution of its grant guidelines. In the spirit of being transparent, living our values, and working collaboratively, we want to provide glimpses into our Q2 time and guideline re-visioning process. One of the first steps we’ve taken is to scan the outside world for thought leaders who can help us think about two central themes: sustainability and creativity. We have a running list of people we want to talk to, books we would like to read, and new media sources we need to plug into.


This past Friday, our program team met for lunch and we queued up two talks by WorldChanging’s Executive Editor and cofounder Alex Steffen. If you are a fan of Worldchanging’s website, you probably spend a lot of time searching through the more than 9,000 “visionary articles” on the “big-picture approach to sustainability.” Our workshop room was filled with the smells of Panini sandwiches, a salad, and a leftover dinner (yes, we could go deeper on living our values here, but the herbs and veggies we are growing on the roof have not quite made it to the lunchroom yet) as we started with Alex’s
TED Talk
. Feeling inspired, we dove right into his Pop!Tech Pop! Cast.

We then moved into a mini debrief mode. It wasn’t exactly dessert, but there is something sweet and savory about brainstorming with your colleagues on a Friday afternoon. We also tried to avoid just putting our thoughts out into the ether, so we actually started a list of catch phrases (for this and other Q2 talks) that we will revisit throughout the summer.

During these particular presentations we were drawn to sustainable development concepts like leap frogging. Alex refers to advancing technological or economic bases in developing countries by skipping over intermediary steps, but we were thinking about leap frogging opportunities in underserved urban areas in New Jersey. And while we were thinking about urban areas, we recalled Alex’s reference to creating “bright green cities.” If you search World Changing’s site for this topic, you get a mere 176 entries (more summer reading)! I was quite drawn to the notion that “precision, proximity and connectivity,” in the context of place, makes it easier to share things and build social infrastructure. I found a good follow-up article on WorldChanging entitled: Smart Growth, Smart Places and Bright Green Cities. And could it be that the next economy might be built around “dematerialization“?

In between the breakthrough concepts and examples of sustainable practices, Alex underscored two challenges that seem in line with the work of the philanthropic sector. They are as follows: 1) getting to sustainable development requires an investment in the process of “changing states of mind”; and 2) “what we measure changes the way we act.” The latter is reflected in Dodge’s Assessment work, but it is not yet directly tied to our grantmaking around the themes of sustainability and creativity. Alex also noted the political challenges to change. Some seem to think politics is not the purview of the philanthropic sector, but there are plenty who challenge this position. Just this weekend, I started reading Looking Forward: Perspectives on Future Opportunities for Philanthropy. This compilation of essays comes from The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and the authors are “leading thinkers in the movement for smarter growth policies and practices that challenge philanthropy to think about its role over the next ten years.”

I anticipate that Dodge’s revised guidelines will begin to reflect some “Looking Forward” notions that get us closer to “NewJerseyChanging.” You can help us fulfill this goal. As you peer in on our Q2 time (this is a first in a series of posts on this topic), we hope you will take the next step by jumping in to make this a collaborative learning process. What sources are you drawing from regarding the notions of creativity and sustainability? Who else do you think the Dodge staff should listen to this summer? We hope to hear from you soon.