Interview: Lin Ishihara, The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation

About The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation concentrates its grantmaking in three program areas: early childhood development, education and youth development. It has an asset base of approximately $100 million and distributes $3.7 million in grants each year in Chicago, Boston, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Foundation continues Mr. W. Clement Stone’s vision to change the world and make it a better place for this and future generations.
About Lin Ishihara
Lin Ishihara has been the Senior Program Officer at the Stone Foundation for four years. Prior to joining the Foundation, Lin worked in school settings and held leadership positions at several youth-focused organizations, including the Richmond District Neighborhood Center and San Francisco School Volunteers. She has served on numerous Boards and Advisory Councils including San Francisco Afterschool for All, Japanese Community Youth Council, San Francisco Beacon Initiative, and Northern California Grantmakers Family Philanthropy Exchange.
YMR: What has your experience been at The W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation with investing in youth media/youth development programs?
Lin Ishihara: Youth voice and broader social impact are the twin pillars of our youth development grantmaking. With this frame, we fund a number of youth organizing, youth-led social change and youth media programs. Stone is a small foundation; grants to fund direct services for youth would not go far. Youth media programs are a strategic investment because they build youth skills and have a larger impact.
Grantees like Youth Communication, Educational Video Center and Youth Radio exemplify how to work with youth to develop deeply resonant stories that influence public perspectives and policy maker decisions about issues important to young people. The Foundation also supports programs that build capacity within the field. Youth development organizations are mostly small, independent entities with thin infrastructure and small budgets; the work of groups like Community Network for Youth Development—which strengthens capacity around effective staff practices and program quality—is vital.
YMR: From your point of view, what does the funding landscape look like? What are investors interested in and what overall trends do you see?
Ishihara: There are two big issues. First, the funding pot has not grown since the shrinkage of 2008 and 2009. Many funders (Stone included) are making smaller grants and many are not considering new grantees. Every nonprofit requires a few new funders each year just to stay afloat. For most foundations, the overall budget picture for 2011 is not yet clear. It is likely to continue to be a precarious time for grant seekers.
Second, in this time of scarce resources, organizations must be able to show and convincingly talk about results. Youth media and youth development organizations are doing a better job of collecting data on the impact of their programs; for example, increased engagement, technical skills development, and improved communication skills.

There is growing pressure for all groups working with youth to demonstrate impact on student achievement. Despite this pressure, youth media and youth development organizations need to be careful not to get sucked into claiming academic outcomes if they are not providing services that directly address academics.

YMR: From your point of view, why aren’t funders interested in investing dollars in youth media?
Ishihara: There is a continuing mis-perception that youth media is simply putting a camera or microphone in young people’s hands and sending them off to capture a story. It may seem loose rather than rigorous. Funders may not understand the high level of skill building involved in youth media—technical, critical literacy, research and analysis. There is also a need for more funder education about youth media’s multiplier effect—that the impact of a youth’s work ripples out to peers, educators, parents and community.
YMR: Can you share some highlights from your 2006 meeting of Youth Development grantees that resulted in the report: Learning From The Field?
Ishihara: We believe it is important to listen to our grantees, to learn from their experiences so we are smarter about how to better support their work in ways beyond the grant. In 2006, we gathered our youth development grantees from across the country for a one-day session in San Francisco. Grantees talked about what they were struggling with, what they were learning, and what was next on their agenda. It was a terrific gathering of leaders doing exceptional work with young people.
The need for more support around capacity building was unquestionably the big issue of the day. Grantees said they wanted help with planning, marketing and infrastructure needs that never get funded. We also noted a real hunger for more opportunities to connect with and learn from peers.
As a result of the convening—and our trustees’ responsiveness to what grantees said they needed—in two short months we launched a new grants program, which we implemented for two years. Grantees could apply for up to $20K for capacity building—a small amount that made a big difference. These grants supported strategic planning, website development, fundraising, and documentation of curriculum that was largely on scraps of flip chart paper.
In 2009, we had to put these capacity building grants on pause because of the decrease in our budget and the decision to focus on general operating and program grants. We hope to re-start these grants when more funding is available.
YMR: What recommendations do you have for practitioners in the field who seek new investors and new stakeholders, outside those that already support youth development/youth media?
Ishihara: First, ask your current funders to open doors to other funders. Your current funders know your work and believe in it. They are terrific credibility builders with peers in philanthropy. Be specific about the kind of assistance you want; for example, you might ask: “Would you be wiling to email XYZ Foundation and introduce our organization?” Or, “Would you look over our prospectus and advise us how to strengthen it for a foundation audience?”
Second, look at funders that are supporting similar organizations. This provides a more concrete window into grantmaker priorities. Grant funding is about the intersection between the priorities of the funder and goals and activities of the grantseeker. If your program and the foundation priorities are not a close fit, I do not recommend wasting time on a proposal.
Third, there are few foundations that have youth media as an explicit funding category. Therefore, you need to widen the lens of your funder research to funders that support youth leadership, youth development, civic engagement, and the arts—areas that intersect with youth media.
Fourth, it is odd to say this to youth media organizations, but be ready to tell your story—your strategy, implementation and results—in a clear, compelling and concise manner. Attention is fleeting so you need to communicate with confidence, passion and command the facts. It is a plus if you can talk about what you are learning, revealing the questions you are asking, your level of analysis and how you are making adjustments to the program.