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.


Unto the Third Generation

October 7, 2013

Foundations have several ways of deciding whether to operate forever or to put all their resources to work in a limited time. Most of the rationales have to do either with the founder’s wishes (some want to take the long view and leave a perpetual legacy, some prefer to give while they’re alive or for just a short time after their death) or else with the nature of the problems they want to address (curing a disease right now vs. exploring medical frontiers far into the future).

Something Ventured, Something Gained

September 20, 2013

Sixteen years ago, William P. Ryan, a philanthropy scholar and consultant, wrote an epochally influential article in the Harvard Business Review, with co-authors Christine W. Letts and Alan Grossman, called “Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn from Venture Capitalists.” One early and enthusiastic reader of that article was Michael Bailin, then president of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

Feeling the Pressures of a Limited Life

August 7, 2013

 Leadership changes, strategic reviews, the closing of some programs and a fresh emphasis on others — all these are part of the normal cycle at just about any foundation. They may feel momentous at the time, but at most foundations, where endowments last indefinitely, the drama soon fades and life returns to normal. There’s always time to reconsider decisions, correct mistakes, try a fresh approach.



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