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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: