Q&A with Clara Miller

My Q&A with Clara Miller from today’s online chat on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website:

Question from Sean Stannard-Stockton, Tactical Philanthropy Blog:
Thanks so much for participating in this discussion Clara. I was wondering if you could talk a little about why the concept of granting “growth capital” is still something that people need convincing to accept. NFF has been around for quite a while. Do you think we’re near a tipping point where foundations and other funders will begin to accept your pitch for growth capital?

Clara Miller:
Sean, that’s a great question and I think it goes back to the culture of the sector–we all fling ourselves at a mission, unaware (and heedless) of the commercial consequences or opportunity, then realize that understanding how enterprises work is very often part of succeeding at mission. Thus, we all need to play catchup. Every one of us sees mission as so critical that we overexploit the “enterprise,” and it happens most to organizations that are succeeding wildly at mission, grow without knowing how risky and expensive that growth is (for for-profits and nonprofits alike). We have no equivalent of “risk” or “growth” capital in our sector, so we’re trying to help nonprofits and funders understand and get comfortable with the need for it. I’d love to say we’re near a tipping point (might just whisper it)…and we have begun to have more foundations join the conversation. While we have a somewhat limited view, Edna McConnell Clark has been a well-known leader, and Ford and now we see interest from a traditional leading “bricks and mortar” funder, Kresge; and a whole group of interested parties, including Gates; Kellogg; Doris Duke Charitable Fund, MacArthur, Mellon, Rockefeller, and others I’m sure I’ve forgotten or am not aware of! At any rate, the best part is that these foundations are understanding that they can act in concert, leverage the power of individual donors and get growing, excellent nonprofits all the way up the steep hill of growth in a sustainable way.

You can read the full transcript here.