Our Investment Strategy
Skees Family Foundation believes that we, and you, vote with every dollar and hour invested in social change. That’s why we weave our resources together to support:
- Our foundation’s mission-aligned grants,
- Family members’ volunteerism and causes, and
- Social-impact investments.
How We’re Different
We approach grantmaking in ways that differ from many funders, in ways intended to invert the power imbalance between nonprofits and funders:
- No applications: Rather than requiring reams of applications, we scan the landscape and research potential partners whose work we wish to support.
- No paper: We conduct conversational surveys with our current partners, to collect metrics on their impact and inquire about how we can better serve them.
- No restrictions: All of our grants are 100% unrestricted. If we trust you enough to fund you, then we trust you to know how to run your own program.
- No games: We’re here to help.
- No fortune: We run a very tight operation, mostly through volunteer service by our family and Board. To supplement our tiny grants, we strive to offer both morale support and more-than-money services such as advocacy, connections, and communications. See our new social-mission book, MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World, which features many SFF partners and whose author-proceeds will benefit job-creation programs to end poverty. Also see our book blog, Job Talk, where we publish short pieces on a range of SFF partners and other intriguing jobs and entrepreneurs.
- No end: We tell our partners, “Once you’re a member of the Skees Family Foundation, you’re always part of the family.” That translates into multiyear grants as well as post-grant support through more-than-money.
Our mission-aligned grants are focused on organizations whose primary work is outside of the United States. We do this for two reasons:
- Given our relatively small grantmaking budget, funding international programs allows each dollar to go further than it would in the U.S, enabling our foundation to have greater impact with our limited resources.
- We support organizations without geographic limitations through our discretionary board and family grants, both in the U.S. and abroad, that our family members are connected to and passionate about.
Within our mission-aligned grants, we have four categories: Seed Grants, Catalyst Grants, Storytelling Grants, and Partnership Grants. Here’s how they work:
- Seed Grants
Seed Grants are single-year grants of $5,000-$10,000 to organizations that our foundation has not previously funded that are in their “start-up” phase. Eligibility for this seed funding is generally available only to organizations with an annual budget of $250,000 or less, in order to ensure that the funds have a significant effect on the budgets of selected organizations.
We encourage our Seed Grantees to use these grants for internal capacity building, but we do not place formal restrictions on the funding. By fostering the growth of small organizations that align with our mission, Seed Grants enable our foundation to support and work with social entrepreneurs building early-stage ventures.
- Catalyst Grants
Catalyst Grants are three-year grants totaling $45,000 for organizations that have demonstrated some success with their models and are ready to work at a broader level by scaling or deepening their programs. Many of these organizations are ones with which our foundation has worked in the past and has built a significant relationship. Catalyst Grants are focused on organizations with an annual budget of less than $500,000, but groups with budgets of up to $1 million are eligible.
It is our hope that Catalyst Grants truly serve as a catalyst for organizations ready to scale, which our foundation views as critical to long-term change. Although the funds are for general operating expenses, we encourage these organizations to invest in expanding and deepening their programs in a self-sustaining way.
By allocating a large proportion of our annual grantmaking budget to a few nonprofits through our Catalyst Grants, we aim to have a more meaningful impact on our Catalyst Grantee organizations and the issue areas in which they work. Sourcing for these grants is done via our previous grantees (Seed, Partnership, or Storytelling Grant recipients), or by finding new eligible organizations through our own research and relationships.
- Partnership Grants
Historically, Skees Family Foundation grantmaking has been largely based on personal relationships with the organizations’ leadership. Therefore, we reserve a portion of our grantmaking budget to support organizations and social entrepreneurs that we have historically funded and would like to continue to support.
Partnership Grants are single-year unrestricted grants ranging from $5,000-$10,000, for any sized organization, with a strong preference towards organizations that have a previous funding history with SFF. The purpose of these grants is to encourage prolonged partnership with organizations that may not fit into the other grantmaking categories.
Family and Board Discretionary Grants
We intend to walk our talk about ending poverty from the grassroots up. Social change is not just for large foundations and robber-baron heirs anymore. We have the information, technology, and collaborative ability to create real change. From the smallest purchases we make (toilet tissue: recycled or not?) to how we spend our weekends (shopping or volunteering?), we believe our choices matter. To that end, we have created the following programs to integrate our family legacy of “philanthropy of the hands” with our grantmaking. All three are discretionary; may be allocated to any 501(c)(3) charity; and tend to cover a range of community, national, and global causes.
- Local 2 Global Grants
Skees family members earn grant credit by volunteering in their local communities. For example, college-student Tori unloads and organizes food-bank groceries in Kentucky; real-estate-broker Tony volunteers for Teach for America in North Carolina; and ed-tech specialist Mary leads innovation courses for underserved youth at U.C. Berkeley in California. They track their hours, accrue dollar value in grant credit, and then make a donation to a nonprofit of their choice, either in their own backyard (Local) or around the world (Global). Each family member can earn and grant a maximum of $2,000 per year.
- Family Grants
Our eight nuclear families learn to research causes and solutions, and to collaborate on grantmaking, at the hub of our homes—the kitchen table. Every year, each Skees family chooses a cause that best fits their family values and have greatest impact in making our world a better place. Together, they discuss, research, debate, and find a way to reach consensus on a $1,000 grant each year. So far, these grants have further funded our Mission-Aligned Grant partners (see above); bolstered our family members’ philanthropic leadership in their local communities; and, often, wind up supporting grassroots groups in the U.S., reaching underserved youth and families, whose values closely parallel those of our global education- and job-creation partners.
- Board Discretionary Grants
Our all-volunteer board members get paid in several non-monetary ways. We get to learn about philanthropy and social change, and we get the privilege of meeting and cheering on some of the most innovative and generous nonprofit changemakers in the world. Plus, we get to spend time together in meetings and retreats, at conferences and site visits, sharing the excitement and hope inherent to philanthropy. And, each board member receives a discretionary grant budget of $3,000 to direct toward mission-aligned nonprofits that we could not reach within our budget that year. Board members have supported job-creation programs in Kenya and Malawi, job-skills training for ex-gang members in Chicago, and a social-justice publisher in San Francisco.
- Generational Grants
Our all-volunteer family Board has generously designated their grants budget, for the foreseeable future, to the extended Skees family in the form of collaborative Generational Grants. These two-year grants may be designated to small nonprofits working to end poverty via education or job-creation in the U.S. or internationally and must be chosen through a Board-supervised, family-research, vetting, and consensus process. We are excited to engage our over thirty family members in three generations, from Boulder to Berlin, Kentucky to Korea, Hawaii to Ohio, to learn more about our mission and grantmaking process. Program begins in 2017.
What are we doing with the other 95 percent? Besides operational expenses and grants that must total an annual “5 percent payout” of our corpus (our foundation’s endowment)—which we often exceed in our impatience to effect equality and prosperity everywhere and now—we have begun to shift our investments from legacy (stocks, bonds, real estate trusts, etc.) into social impact. We have chosen direct program-related investments (PRIs), debt, and equity that match our mission to end global poverty via education and job-creation, including college microloans in developing countries, water-filtration franchise jobs in East Africa, microloans and jobs in Latin America, and health education and access in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In this way, a growing percent of our corpus earns a modest financial return while directly advancing our mission. Check out our investments here; and stay tuned, because we aim to reach 100 percent before we work ourselves out of a job.
Join us: Use your power, one dollar, one hour, one school, one village—or even one person—at a time. Together, we can.