Should philanthropists follow the guidance of Duke Prof. Joel Fleishman and his co-author Tom Tierney, in the 2011 book Give Smart, and devote their giving to the causes that most move their hearts? Or should they emulate Facebook billionaires Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz, who select their charitable targets with cerebral dispassion, assessing how many people will benefit from any given contribution, how great and lasting the benefit might be relative to the cost, and how much risk of failure they will confront along the way.
Some people believe that philanthropy produces more value when it operates under a deadline. But testing that proposition is a lot harder than it sounds. Here’s a way to frame the question.
Recent decades have seen a marked shift in not just the amount of philanthropic contributions directly into public-policy debates, but the explicitness of their intent. Whereas most foundation grants in the policy arena used to take the form of “demonstrations” and “models," funders today have tended to leap directly into the promotion business, advocating changes based on normative arguments that may be only loosely grounded in empirical evidence.
Are foundation officers more courageous risk-takers than other people? Some new research says: Evidently not. Then again, should they be?
The announcement, a few weeks ago, that the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation would soon end its Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative sent a chill through the young industry that collects and markets data on nonprofit performance. The foundation had been a formidable supporter of such grantees as the data-aggregation sites GuideStar and GiveWell, which try to arm donors with information on how nonprofits are run and what they achieve.
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
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.
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.