Moving From Idea to Initiative - Exponent Philanthropy
A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Moving From Idea to Initiative

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How do you move from a board table vision to a broad-based collaboration?

After more than 20 years funding individual programs in its mission areas, The David and Lura Lovell Foundation began to focus on broad-based community, regional and national initiatives to change systems, address root causes, and build capacity in organizations focused on these things.

Using a combination of education, practical experience, and best practices from the field, we developed a seven step process to move from idea to initiative by learning, listening, building capacity, collaborating with partners, and checking for readiness all along the way.

Our 7-step process

Our process lends itself to foundations with small staff teams or volunteers, accommodates different paces and the use of outside consultants, and allows for the inevitable need to circle back or “refresh” as new information, players and ideas are identified.

  1. Scan the landscape to learn more about the needs and opportunities in your issue area, and to identify and learn from the key organizations and funders that are working on the problem. Use this information to gauge the interest of your board and gain buy-in.
  2. Identify partners, which includes initiating, solidifying, furthering, or changing the relationship(s) you have with key partners in moving your collective idea(s) forward. Consider nontraditional approaches, such as direct contracts to help with scanning, or providing in-kind staff or consultant resources to existing planning efforts.
  3. Survey key stakeholders to substantiate need, identify resources, and gain input on potential strategies, objectives, activities, and desired results. The organizations that already have your ear may not necessarily have the whole story. Inclusivity and active listening are key here.
  4. Convene stakeholders, live or virtually, to create energy and commitment. Make this easy to do via direct payments to planning and implementation consultants and venues versus cumbersome small grants to organizations.
  5. Plan, in cooperation with key partners, to use information from the previous steps to develop strategies and objectives, and determine resources and partners’ roles. Again, make it easy through noncompetitive planning grants to key partners.
  6. Request grant proposals from the field, or invite key program partners to apply. Your prior work should suggest the best approach to take.
  7. Evaluate in various ways, including individual programs and the coalition, and the short- and long-term impact of the work. Make it clear that you expect realistic budgeting and implementation of evaluation to be part of any good proposal.

Identifying synergies

The Lovell Foundation used this process to identify synergy among several local and national events and trends including: a documentary film it funded on end-of-life decisions that was picked up by national PBS; a local coalition of community-based organizations and advocates providing workshops on end-of-life conversations; a growing population of older Americans, only 25% of whom have advanced care plans in place; and needing health care systems to provide more patient-centered and value-based care.

Moving through the seven steps, the foundation is now the major funder of the largest community-based end-of-life care coalition, the Arizona End of Life Care Partnership, which serves seven Arizona counties through 15 grantees. With additional support from the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona, as well as individual and organizational investments into the partnership, the network includes provider and community outreach and education, work- and place-based initiatives, advocacy, a state index project, and end-of-life care services for children and families.

John Amoroso is executive director of The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, which focuses on mental health, integrative health and wellness, youth access to the arts, and gender parity. John has a master of nonprofit management degree from Regis University and sits on the board of directors of the Arizona Grantmakers Forum.

Christina M. Rossetti, Principal, Rossetti Consulting Group, has a master’s in social work planning, administration, and community organization. In partnership with social services and healthcare organizations, philanthropists, and other funders, Christina has worked to further health-related initiatives in Arizona for the past 30 years.


  1. Scott Gelzer

    Thanks authors for a concise read on this topic. In my humble opinion, convening in an authentic manner, before setting priorities is, as they say, “the ballgame”. IF a message is inadvertently sent that you have largely settled on needs, this valuable work will be viewed cynically. For instance, a funder may wind up learning your funding guidelines may need tweaking. Again, thanks.

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