January 30, 2013
(Rob DiLeonardi is executive director of the Chicago-based VNA Foundation and co-founder and former chair of the Association of Small Foundations, a national organization of grantmaking foundations holding over $60 billion in assets. In addition to his responsibilities as a grantmaker, DiLeonardi has a longstanding interest in foundation transparency and outcome sharing; VNA's Web site and annual reports have received eight Wilmer Shields Rich Awards for Excellence in Communications from the Council on Foundations. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)
During the two decades I've worked for and with small grantmaking foundations, I've addressed problems ranging from healthcare access to domestic violence to homelessness. One of the most vexing problems I've faced over the years, however, relates not to the subject matter of my grantmaking, but rather to the results of it. Time and again, I've helped develop a grantmaking program to address a particular problem, only to find out after the fact that another foundation was funding the identical issue, often with a remarkably similar approach, in the same or a nearby area. We were addressing the same need, often via the same method, but doing so in blissful isolation. In short, we were reinventing the wheel, sometimes only a few miles apart.
Similarly, our foundation's board and staff have often wondered about latest funding trends. With only a limited number of dollars in our coffers, we want to spend them in the most effective possible way. It would be helpful for us to know exactly where other philanthropic dollars were being directed, both geographically and programmatically, as this knowledge would aid us in filling a gap or funding a complimentary niche -- a favorite strategy to maximize the impact of our grantmaking.