‘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.

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.


Calling All Billionaires: Starting a New Foundation Isn’t Your Only Option

July 23, 2010

I want to thank my friends at Duke University for letting me serve as guest blogger on the Intrepid Philanthropist this past week. Offering unsolicited advice to the Friends of Buffett and Gates (FOBGs) as they consider how to make a splash with their philanthropy has been more fun than I'd imagined. And it’s reminded me of all the great things that are happening in this field, and of all the smart thinking grantmakers are doing about how best to put their philanthropic resources to work.

Is There a Future for the Academic Study of the Philanthropic Foundation?

May 20, 2010

In my first post I mentioned that both Joan Spero and Stephen Heintz, speaking at the Foundation Center session in New York on Monday, had expressed disappointment in both press and academic coverage of private philanthropic foundations. I think they are right to be concerned, but the press situation is easier to understand. It has been true for some time that only a few reporters have ever been assigned to a philanthropy (much less a philanthropic foundation) beat, and few editors assign reporters to specific stories relating to the field.


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