A Hedgehog Moment: The Roles and Pitfalls of Strategic Philanthropy for Family Foundations and Donors

The growing quantity of giving has not been matched by improved quality. The growth in the quantity of new philanthropy and the search for more effective philanthropy has now produced a “significant moment in the marketization of philanthropy.” A recent outpouring of books by foundation officials, consultants and academics has broadly emphasized the idea that “strategic philanthropy” in some form promises significant improvements. With these books, then, do donors, family foundations, and philanthropy generally have new usable knowledge to meet the challenge of quality grantmaking?

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Beyond the Veneer of Strategic Philanthropy

“Strategic philanthropy” has become a dominant theme among foundations in the past few decades. While many foundations have developed strategic plans, few have made the internal changes necessary to actually behave strategically. Four challenges to strategic philanthropy are identified, including strategies developed in isolation from grantees that execute them and misaligned foundation structures, processes, and cultures that do not support strategic endeavors. In order to get beyond the veneer of strategic philanthropy, foundation leaders need to be clearer about their own role in creating change, develop the strategic capacities to do so, and then apply those capacities, learn from them, Read more

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Conversations with Remarkable Givers

Conversations with Remarkable Givers is an unprecedented collection of more than 1,200 video clips, drawn from 50-plus interviews with philanthropists and foundation leaders. Interviewees discuss important components of philanthropy such as how they involve family and choose which causes to support, and how they work with grantees and measure results.

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Data Playbook

The Data Playbook is designed to help you make sense of the data you already have and to build upon it. In it, you will learn about what data you need; how best to collect it; how to analyze it to meet your needs; how to present it; and how to use it to inform your work and tell your story. Whether you are looking for guidance on how to build a post-program survey, initiate conversations about metrics at staff meetings, make charts in your reports more compelling or hire a data expert, this resource has something to offer.   Read more

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Giving in Challenging Times

The Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ followed up with a blog post to “Giving in Challenging Times,” a guide in the Philanthropy Roadmap series, and recommended that donors take their time to carefully “review, recalibrate, and recommit.”

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Exit Strategies for Foundations

This editorial blog introduces a special issue of The Foundation Review on Exit Strategies. Foundations of various sizes and geographic foci share what they have learned about exiting with grace and impact.  

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Staying the Course: How a Long-Term Strategic Donor Initiative to Conserve the Amazon Has Yielded Outcomes of Global Significance

This article examines how the design principles of a major philanthropic initiative have influenced its performance, and provides a practical example of strategic philanthropy that can contribute to the current debate over the merits and flaws of this approach.

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Strategic or emergent: why are we stuck in the swimming pool?

Responses to John Kania, Mark Kramer and Patty Russell’s ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’, published in the summer issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, have come largely from the US and from people who write regularly about philanthropy. Many of them have focused on the way consultants behave and how they interact with foundations and non-profits – in other words, the philanthropy system. We would like to broaden that debate and in doing so to leave the swimming pool and venture out into the sea.

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Through the Looking Glass: Foundation Evaluation and Learning and the Quest for Strategic Learning

This article addresses different models that foundations use to establish staff evaluation and learning functions, what other organizational considerations they should take into account in order to prioritize strategic-learning work, and what tools and approaches can be used to initiate strategic learning. Interviews with officers from more than a dozen foundations revealed that strategic learning does not require wholesale structural and cultural change; an incremental approach, instead, can phase in greater complexity as foundations expand staff capacity. The interviews also uncovered several areas where further exploration of system building and practice at foundations has potential for advancing the field.

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