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Posted: April 15, 2010 10:57 AM
Author: Perla Ni

Foundations—and by extension nonprofits—should try to focus on “common good” to realize their full potential, argues Mark Rosenman, Director of Caring to Change. In the new report, “Foundations for Common Good,” Rosenman suggests that no matter how narrow a foundation’s (or by extension, a nonprofit’s) mission, it should creatively serve a broad base of beneficiaries and not exclude the poor/minorities. The report and other information is available free at

The fundamental trust that the public has in the nonprofit sector is predicated on the sector being based on “common good” values—such as fairness and justice. When large donors or foundations give narrow grants which exclude a broad base of beneficiaries,  such as Leona Helmsley’s infamous $8 billion dollar charitable bequest for “dog welfare,” they erode the public’s trust. Yet, he points out ways that even the Helmsley mission could be pursued through programs that serve the broader common good.

Rosenman’s approach of framing the issue as one of fairness and broad benefit is a welcome breath of fresh air to the polarized diversity debate. It is a values-based framework that is well supported by American history and philanthropy.  And it has real-world practical applications throughout the sector.  For instance, it has worried me how grants to Arts institutions are generally thought of as grants to elite institutions by elites.

If foundations structured their grants to them so that it was based on broad benefit as Mark suggests (ie: providing access for and to low-income people, young people, people who otherwise don’t have access to the arts), it’s a lot more in line with the common good values that the public expects from the nonprofit sector.  He also argues that by defining problems and programs more broadly, more comprehensively, foundations (and nonprofits) will even be more successful in serving their core missions.


image Perla Ni, founder and former publisher of Stanford Social Innovation Review, is the founder and CEO of GreatNonprofits. She is also a co-founder of