Suggested Strategies: Connecting Analyses, Programs, Organizations and People PDF Print E-mail

Problems are related, but too often grantmaking is not. Foundations need to work for more coherence in their efforts by locating their missions in the context of the Common Good and by exploring and addressing the relationships between and among various issues and problems. Society is not simply an aggregation of phenomena, problems, issues and concerns, but rather a multifaceted system in which all components are related to one another and to the Common Good. Foundation strategies that reflect this vision can bring together discrete problem analyses and program initiatives for more coherent and effective grantmaking.

Foundation funding practices have helped create “silos” in the nonprofit sector where broad social, economic, political and environmental problems are broken down into fragmented issues with groups specializing in narrow approaches to their resolution. Funding too often is done by program areas that cast problems in ways that are simplistic and isolated from the complicated realities in which organizations work. Many foundations solicit and reward proposals that treat problems as separate and disconnected phenomena, and favor short-term approaches easily amenable to quantifiable outcome measures whether or not they identify and address the dynamics that are at the heart of the matter.

Consequently, too many nonprofit organizations have narrowly tailored their programs and missions and are becoming more specialized in focus as they more narrowly define their issues and constituencies. No matter how effective the narrower programs might be, these efforts will ultimately hold less consequence for substantive and sustainable change than would more comprehensive initiatives that sought to concurrently benefit the Common Good.

Specific passion and a particular focus can be helpful, but a narrow grantmaking program may too often be the result of our unexamined habits of thinking, rather than broader concern, analyses and planning which will better serve a foundation’s goals while advancing the Common Good.

Foundations, internally and in their grantmaking, need to promote a philanthropic and nonprofit culture that brings together separate program areas and joins rigidly segmented categories. They need to enable organizations to overcome false dichotomies that restrict community engagement, and to join together what have been thought of as separate types of program activity such as service delivery and advocacy. Foundations can often be most effective when they support collaborations that integrate divisions in the nonprofit sector and that seek to form coherent and comprehensive strategies for the pursuit of the Common Good.

SUGGESTED STRATEGY 3: Foundations should promote learning, collaboration and synthesis across fields, divisions, and organizations to yield benefits for their specific missions and to advance the Common Good.

Foundations should build effectiveness by promoting problem definitions, analyses and programming that are more coherent and collaborative, and by encouraging their grantees to propose programs in reference to the Common Good. In addition, foundations should provide support to multi-issue organizations, as well as to groups of organizations which collaborate across issue and program divisions.

3.1 Support and design initiatives that bring together leaders of disparate organizations and provide them with the opportunity to explore commonalities and build collaboration, as well as to set their efforts in context of the Common Good.

3.1.1 Support the efforts of grantees that share analyses and a sense of the Common Good to widen their circle.

3.1.2 Strive for comprehensive overviews in every program area that build on and locate themselves in broad analyses.

3.1.3 Provide funding for the development of collaborations, and support the building and maintenance of partnerships in service to the Common Good.

3.1.4 Convene grantees that are potential collaborators, but don’t compel partnerships.

3.2 Create systems-reform opportunities by collaborating with other foundations.

3.3 Support programs that link services, advocacy and civic participation.

3.4 Encourage all grantees to at least consider public policy.

3.5 Recognize that the costs of initiating, developing, and operating strategic collaborations go beyond normal program activities, that they serve the Common Good, and that participation in them itself requires financial support.

3.6 Assess the success of collaborations, their continued institutionalization and contributions to the Common Good as grant outcomes above and beyond direct program accomplishments.


Material on this site is based on the report Foundations for the Common Good. You are invited to download a complimentary copy or purchase the printed report.

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