Perpetuity, continued

April 18, 2014

At the recent panel in New York City on the rationale for perpetual foundations, one member of the audience taking careful notes was Bruce Trachtenberg (you can see Bruce’s summary of the session here).  A foundation veteran who for many years led the Communications Network, the trade association for foundation communication officers, Bruce has a knack for viewing issues from unexpected angles.

More on the Frontiers (a Postscript)

April 2, 2014

A few days after writing about the search for breakthrough innovations in philanthropy, I caught up with the cover story in the latest Stanford Social Innovation Review (Spring 2014), by two consultants with the Monitor Institute, a part of Deloitte Consulting that specializes in nonprofit innovation.  I was struck by their opening premise: that the “strategic philanthropy movement” has caused too many funders to box their grantmaking into

Out on the Frontiers

March 18, 2014

In a recent talk at the Foundation Impact Research Group (FIRG), the president of the Commonwealth Fund, David Blumenthal, mentioned that one of the new efforts he has introduced since taking over the Fund in 2013 is “a surveillance process for breakthrough opportunities.” He was quick to point out that this isn’t some kind of philanthropic Skunk Works (Lockheed-Martin’s elite innovation team, famous for both brilli

Inside and Outside Knowledge

February 28, 2014

What does it take to develop a clear foundation strategy?  After observing over a dozen FIRG presentations, I think I have finally put my finger on at least part of the answer: inside and outside knowledge.


At this month’s FIRG presentation, Chris Stone, head of the Open Society Foundations, talked about what is necessary for policy change. He described a two-pronged strategy – a strategy to create allies within the government and other elite circles and a second strategy to build a mass of external grassroots supporters who know how to mount a popular movement.


How Does Competition Affect Grantmaking, and What Can be Done?

February 11, 2014

Several speakers at the Foundation Impact Research Group (FIRG) have observed, at least in passing, that competition among grantees for foundation grant dollars is increasing. But what are competition’s implications for foundations and grantees? At this fall’s conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations (ARNOVA), researchers presented new work that helps illuminate this question.

A Foundation Bets Everything on Social Return

February 6, 2014

You need to be more than a bit interested in foundations to make it all the way through the new president’s letter from the F. B. Heron Foundation. (That’s not just our opinion. Heron President Clara Miller accompanied the letter with “a bit of a warning”: most of her message would be “pretty nerdy.”) But if you are at all interested in how foundations are focused, steered, and managed, you’ll want to read every word. This is not your usual president’s letter.


Heroic (but not Strategic) Philanthropy in Detroit

January 23, 2014

A while ago, we noted some provocative remarks about strategy and philanthropy by Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Speaking at a session of the Foundation Impact Research Group (FIRG), Mr. Gallucci pointed out that some of his foundation’s more interesting and important work is not strategic in nature.

Objects on Horizon May Be Closer than They Appear

January 13, 2014

In his multiyear chronicle of the of the AVI CHAI Foundation’s gradual sunset, Center director Joel Fleishman continues to track how the foundation (with assets of $535 million, down from a peak of $777 million just before the market collapse of 2008) is preparing to close its doors by the end of this decade.  The latest installment in that series has just been published and is available here.


Taking Strategy All The Way to Implementation

January 8, 2014

Discussions of strategic philanthropy, with their emphasis on big ideas and root causes, can sometimes treat the implementation of new policies as essentially a tactical matter — important, maybe, but not really strategic. In this guest post, the former director of Strategic Learning and Evaluation for The Atlantic Philanthropies takes on this bias, citing an example of smart philanthropy in Ireland that involves plenty of big ideas, but that puts effective implementation at the center of its strategic agenda.



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