Caring Enough to Change Philanthropy

I just finished reading a new report on bettering philanthropy, Caring to Change: Foundations for the Common Good, the result of a project developed by Mark Rosenman in collaboration with the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation. A veteran researcher and thought leader in the nonprofit and philanthropy sector, Mark’s expertise is in critique and improvement its infrastructure and capacity to influence public policy.

He started with some provocative premises:

Enormous growth in foundations assets and grantmaking in the past few decades
+ Broad-based accomplishments in nonprofit/philanthropy infrastructure

= Less than significant impact on some of society’s most intractable problems, particularly when concerns about race, poverty and growing economic inequality are considered

Perhaps it is time
… to think about additional grantmaking strategies,
… to go beyond fueling innovation in relatively narrow program areas,
… to think beyond the current debates and alternatives.

Perhaps it is time
… to see if their might be some new ideas, especially among people who don’t usually get asked about foundation grantmaking strategy.

The project engaged a dizzying mix of over 150 recognized, established, underrecognized, and emerging professionals to uncover their criticism of—and recommendations for—grantmaking. And in the end, here’s the core theme that emerged:

“Foundations will be more effective in their own particular missions and more appreciated as institutions when they also aim to advance the Common Good.”

Funders should ground their grantmaking in core social values, have a clear idea of their unique role, and view solutions using a long-term perspective. In addition, they should pay greater attention to diversity and opportunity, and make more connections among approaches, solutions, organizations, and institutions.

The report rings true. The particular rules and traditions, which I would call peculiarities or even superpowers, of foundation grantmaking make it possible to extraordinary things. But these same particulars suggest leadership responsibilities. This report has sparked some reflection for me, and over the next week, I’ll post a few more thoughts and critiques.

Additional print copies of the full report can be ordered at cost at the project website. A free downloadable .pdf file also is available at the site.