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This Week in PubHub: Grantmaking Strategies

December 15, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examined how much and why people give.)

One long-running theme in philanthropy is the need for sustainable social change models. This week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that look at specific grantmaking strategies and practices designed to maximize fundamental long-term social impact.

As part of its poverty reduction efforts, the Rockefeller Foundation is supporting the development of new impact sourcing models -- the use of business process outsourcing to create sustainable jobs for low-income populations in developing countries, especially in rural areas with limited employment options. According to Job Creation Through Building the Field of Impact Sourcing (44 pages, PDF), a Rockefeller-funded report from the Monitor Group, more and more foundations and educational institutions are willing to pay a premium for the services of impact sourcing service providers (ISSP) over traditional business process outsourcing (BPO) operations. The report outlines an action agenda to advance the field: train, recruit, and engage "bottom of the pyramid" (BoP) workers; create a platform to share market research findings, lessons learned, and best practices; connect small ISSPs with established BPOs; expose ISSPs to larger pools of demand; and build domestic anchor clients.

More broadly, Reframing the Conversation: What Do We Mean by Scale? (7 pages, PDF), a report from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, examines some of the ways in which funders can help grantees scale their impact, including the promotion of ideas and innovations, funding skills-building initiatives, and supporting and/or engaging in policy advocacy. The report suggests that scaling efforts, in order to be successful, should include high-engagement relationships between funders and grantees that lead to thorough assessment, a solid evidence base, and a sustainable business model; and access to additional growth capital. Funded by SeaChange Capital Partners and the Annie E. Casey, Edna McConnell Clark, and Surdna foundations, the report notes in closing that "to scale is not to go it alone."

According to Lessons From the Field: From Understanding to Impact (16 pages, PDF), a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, foundations "need to develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the fields in which they work" if they hope to be effective. But how can foundations actually go about gaining a deeper understanding of their grantees' work -- the kind of understanding that leads to better funder-grantee relationships and contributes to funders being more strategic? The report describes how one foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, recruited former activists and leaders in a given field, listened to stakeholders, emphasized collaborative learning, and took steps to foster greater grantee leadership as well as professional development among its own staff. The Energy Foundation launched a successful environmental program in China by working closely with local experts in energy efficiency and renewable energy who also could provide insight into Chinese politics and business culture. And, in addition to studying the environmental and ecological implications of its efforts to protect specific wildlife habitats, the Wilburforce Foundation also sought diverse perspectives from outside the conservation field to gauge the effects of its activities on local communities and populations.

Last but not least, the FSG Social Impact Advisors report Gaining Perspective: Lessons Learned From One Foundation's Exploratory Decade (17 pages, PDF), provides a case study of the Northwest Area Foundation's efforts to target its resources over a decade so as to have more of an impact in reducing poverty in the communities it serves. Embracing a greater level of experimentation than it might have been comfortable with in the past, the foundation made a long-term, multimillion-dollar commitment to an untested strategy and a number of new grantee organizations; shifted its perspective from that of funder to equal partner; and adopted a go-it-alone approach instead of engaging with other funders or public-sector agencies. Unfortunately, the hoped-for impact failed to materialize. The report offers lessons learned from the foundation's failed approach, including the need to support proven community-based organizations, to listen "deeply" to and communicate regularly with grantees and community stakeholders, and to collaborate with others, including other funders.

What do you think foundations should be doing to achieve greater social impact? Are you familiar with a promising or proven model for scaling social change efforts? What does your organization do to deepen its understanding of your grantees' work? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse nearly fifteen hundred reports related to philanthropy and voluntarism.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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