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Changemaking: Building Strategic Competence

Foundations have begun to recognize that how they go about their work is as important as what they support. To be better armed to address the urgent challenges facing Detroit’s children, the Skillman Foundation has adopted a changemaking role that draws upon and leverages its knowledge, networks, and civic reputation to supplement its grantmaking investments. Effective changemaking depends on the accrual of trust and respect that is built over time in relationships with community residents and stakeholders, public and private partners, and others with influence and resources. Changemaking required the foundation to build new strategic competencies such as working across Read more





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Children’s Futures: Lessons From a Second-Generation Community Change Initiative

This article describes Children’s Futures, a 10-year initiative in Trenton, N.J., that seeks to improve the health and well-being of children from 0 to 3 years old and ensure that they are ready for school. During the first five years, the initiative was successful in implementing a number of evidence-based practices to improve children’s health, such as providing home visits to pregnant women, measuring and improving the quality of day care centers, and improving the use of information systems to track childhood immunizations. Efforts to provide services for fathers and improve home-based child care were not successful; these are areas Read more





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Leveraging Grant-Making—Part 2: Aligning Programmatic Approaches With Complex System Dynamics

The purpose of this two-part article is to enable foundations to increase the leverage of their grantmaking resources by working effectively with the dynamics of complex social systems. This article examines how foundations can align planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts with the behavior of the social systems they seek to improve. Asking powerful questions of staff, board, grantees, and other stakeholders helps to transform how they think about their goals and strategies. In addition to using the power of questioning, foundations function more systemically by suspending their assumptions about their effectiveness and what is possible, creating the cultural shifts needed, Read more





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Leveraging Grantmaking: Understanding the Dynamics of Complex Social Systems

The nonobvious interrelationships among elements in a complex system often thwart people’s best intentions to sustainably improve system performance. The complex, nonlinear problems that most foundations address can be solved most effectively by thinking systemically instead of linearly about these problems. Systems thinking offers a range of analytic tools to improve our capacity to think systemically, including ways to distinguish problem symptoms from root causes, reinforcing and balancing feedback, system archetypes, mental models, and system purpose and goals. Applying these tools enables us to target high leverage interventions that can lead to sustainable, system-wide improvement. These tools can be applied Read more