Funder Profile: Elmezzi Foundation
Pooja Joshi O’Hanlon oversees all key operations and programs at The Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation (the Elmezzi Foundation). Pooja embarked on a career in the nonprofit sector working for a leading community-based youth development organization in NYC and is well-versed in issues that nonprofit organizations face in implementing their missions.
The Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation is guided by the core proposition of the American Dream — that anyone, given the right tools and support, can live up to their potential and succeed. It is a legacy established by Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi that honors their vision of providing opportunities through education, youth development, medical research, and support for the elderly, with an emphasis on individuals and families in the Long Island City/Astoria area.
How does the Elmezzi Foundation think about reporting – what is its raison d’etre?
Grant reporting at the Elmezzi Foundation is a collaborative effort between the grantee and the foundation. We ask grantees to submit reports so we can better understand that organization’s work, the program we funded, and the successes and/or challenges encountered in implementing the program. When we support specific programs, reports can help us understand how an individual program relates to or advances the grantee’s overall mission and other programming. Over the last two years, we have focused on gaining clarity, and learning from grantees, about how our combined efforts can help us achieve the foundation’s intended outcomes.
The Elmezzi Foundation is a small family-like foundation and that informs how we think about impact and reporting. Working closely with our board, we’ve focused on combining the values of the donor and needs in our community to guide the emerging priorities. One of the many mistakes I’ve made initially is thinking that we should follow an issue-focused strategic plan, as best practice typically encourages, but I have come to believe that an issue approach alone does not resonate within every foundation’s culture. For instance, at our foundation, there will always be a desire to know who we are funding and how it directly relates to our founder/donor’s values and vision.
Has your approach to reporting evolved over the life of the foundation? How so?
In the early years of the Foundation (late 90s) the reporting was quite basic: a brief update on the grant and focused on compliance.
This process has evolved considerably since our founding. In late 2016, we asked CEP to conduct a customized grantee perception report for us. CEP interviewed a representative group of our grantees and the feedback we received from some of our grantees is that further clarity around our goals with direct communication about this would be helpful. This led us to begin a process internally where we started by establishing a more focused and concise outcome/impact model that we shared with our Board and ultimately our grantees. We wanted to be straightforward with our grantees about the foundation’s expectations.
In our process of creating concise and relevant impact/outcome statements we first segmented our focus by population and geography we serve [youth and adults in Long Island City/Astoria area]. It was tremendously helpful for us to look back in order to move forward–to this point we looked back to see how our diverse set of past grants connected or coalesced to achieve the outcomes we are seeking, those that were connected to our organization’s idea of desired impact. Recently we have used the outcome statements and revised our application and reporting documents and guidelines. Our hope is that over the next few years, as we begin to review reports and applications, we will be able to speak more confidently about whether outcomes focused grant information can help us to better articulate the foundation’s overall impact. So far, we are collecting the information and noting opportunities and capacity issues across our diverse grantees.
While our funding has been very grant and grantee specific, we hope that this new method allows us to generate information across grantees around common outcomes and impact. The complementary piece to this is that as staff when we share grant summaries with our board internally, we provide the board with consistent language – projected outputs, outcomes, impact. While these words are not immediately meaningful, we hope by organizing information this way, consistently over time, all involved will begin to see connections and become more comfortable with the terms.
How has the foundation’s respect for grantees informed its approach to reporting?
We have learned that there is often a lack of clarity around the difference between “impact, outcomes and outputs” and that there is sometimes a disconnect between the grantee’s stated impact/outcome/output and the Foundation’s perception of the same categories. So, we speak about expectations and try not to get our grantees hung up on word choices.
As mentioned in the previous answer, we recently piloted a new way of seeking information from our grantees in their proposals and reports that would align with the board’s stated funding interests and ensure that expectations are communicated to both sides (grantseeker and decision maker) are consistent.
We are trying not to be directive about it, but rather, just providing information and see if it helps applicants in describing their work. Many of our grantees do not have a lot of extra capacity and we’re not doing this work for some grand social experiment, we just want to help our foundation (and maybe our grantees too) articulate impact in a meaningful way.
In late 2017 reporting guidelines started asking grantees to complete a logic model that is compared with information in their original proposal. We have not yet seen the results of this shift, but I believe that by next round there will be a firm understanding of what we are looking for and the grantees will be better able to see what we are looking for and how their organization fits.
Imagine you’ve secured a “goPro” camera to one of your most typical reports?
We spend time reading every report. Even though reports are pretty thorough, we often get back in touch with grantees to ask follow-up questions. We also spend concentrated time summarizing each report for the board, in language that is consistent with our grantmaking model.
- When we receive a report, staff in charge reviews it for completeness.
- Then we arrange a meeting or phone call with a grantee to learn further one on one.
- After that, we summarize reports for our Board, sometimes as part of a renewal request, other times as stand-alone summaries.
- At Board meetings, staff make brief presentations on critical interim or final reports.
What would you suggest to other grantmakers? What do you wish you knew when you started?
Keeping the burden off our grantees and focusing on reporting that fits your foundation along shared expectations would be our recommendations. Our approach (aligning everything-applications, reports, board summaries- around same set of impact/outcome statements) is a work-in-progress, and we look forward to sharing where we end up.
So far one challenge we have encountered has been consolidating all this data without having the appropriate software. For a small foundation like ours, most grants management/analysis software is expensive to license and maintain given our volume of grants. This is an area in which we’d love advice from other smaller foundations. For now, MS Excel is king!
Revisit Reporting Profiles developed and edited by Elizabeth Myrick and Jessica Bearman.