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.


Sunset for a Family Foundation

December 17, 2013

The popularity of time-limited philanthropy, which appears to be growing, runs especially high among two groups of foundation leaders. The first is living donors, many of whom want to see their money put to use in their lifetimes or soon thereafter. The second group consists of the descendants, typically in the second or third generation, of the founders of a family foundation. 


Social Impact Bonds: Do Benefits Outweigh the Drawbacks?

December 13, 2013

Through some combination of interest and luck, I have been listening to a lot of discussion of Social Impact Bonds, which are also known as Pay for Success programs, recently (see below for sources/more information).  Social Impact Bonds are a form of nonprofit financing where a group of investors fund a nonprofit program which then reduces future government costs.  When the nonprofit succeeds, the government repays investors under the terms of a pre-negotiated contract.

Crossing the Scale Barrier

December 4, 2013

Among the simpler approaches to strategic philanthropy — verging on the simplistic — is the venerable Demonstration Program. In the idea’s most basic form , a foundation supports a new activity in three to five places, “demonstrates” it, documents its successes (if there are any), and then publishes a report recommending that the model be “taken to scale” — i.e., copied everywhere.The experience usually ends with a handful of inspiring stories and (at best) some solid evidence that an idea worked well in limited circumstances. 

‘The Days of Quiet Philanthropy Are Behind Us’

November 26, 2013

In 2001, when Paul Grogan was named president of the Boston Foundation (the nation’s 15th largest community foundation in 2012), it was understood that the revered but diffident institution was headed for an abrupt change in profile. Grogan, a former top city official in Boston, had spent more than a decade presiding over explosive growth at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s premier community development investment organization. Throughout his career he had thrived in the spotlight and worked hard to earn a reputation as a colorful and forceful advocate.

Take a Risk! ... Just don’t fail

October 31, 2013


Philanthropy tends to pride itself – not always accurately – on being society’s big risk-taker. Whenever I hear the claim, I find myself asking (silently): Is that true? What’s more, is it even desirable?

Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of America’s ten largest by asset size, posed those questions out loud at a recent session of the Sanford School’s Foundation Impact Research Group. Here’s what he said, in part:

Good Philanthropy, sure. Strategic? Not really.

October 25, 2013

It’s precious rare, in grantmaking circles, to hear anyone admit to carrying on philanthropy that isn’t strategic ­— much less to boast of it. Here at the Center, where Strategic Philanthropy is part of our name, we obviously try to encourage that aspiration as much as possible, even as we realize that (a) many foundations aren’t nearly as strategic as they want to be, and (b) strategy, by itself, isn’t the answer to everything. At a recent meeting of the Center’s Foundation Impact Research Group, Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T.

When Philanthropists Get It Wrong

October 15, 2013

Economist Zoltan Acs, who has made his academic mark mostly by thinking and writing about entrepreneurship, has lately trained his lens on philanthropy, in an engaging book called Why Philanthropy Matters. Appropriately, for a scholar of the entrepreneurial impulse, Professor Acs spends much of his book talking about the kind of philanthropy practiced by wealthy and successful people during their lifetime, and how that kind of enterprising philanthropy benefits society.



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