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#348 – ICYMI from 2008 – The Future of Foundations

August 14th, 2019

Richard Marker

In reviewing posts from the earliest days of this blog, I came upon this piece from January 2008. I invite readers to decide how accurate I was – or wasn’t – 11 1/2 years ago.

This entry is in response to a request from Trista Harris of “new voices in philanthropy” to address this issue. It is also cross referenced on their blog.

In addressing the future of “philanthropic foundations” one is tempted to recall the most quoted generalization about foundations: “you’ve met one foundation, you’ve met one foundation.” While still true for some, it is frankly not as true as foundation folks used to believe. Fads in philanthropy and herd mentality are as evident in our world as in any other. Therefore a few generalizations:

  • There will be a greater number of partnerships and collaborations so that foundations can leverage their resources and focus on major issues.
  • The upcoming recession will force most foundations to re-focus on fewer grantees, but most will continue to fund those fewer grantees at the same level as before.
  • Many of those who were thinking of starting or maintaining private foundations will choose to establish donor advised funds instead, in order to maintain more privacy. They will trade off control and flexibility for privacy and reduced reporting requirements.
  • The recent trend in aligning investments with grant policies will continue to grow. Corporations will increasingly begin to anticipate these moves and will invite foundation leaders onto their boards. [I don’t know how many will say yes.]
  • Wise foundations will realize the importance of advocacy funding to address major societal issues. The greater pressure on foundations to replace government funding which has emerged over the last 7 years will lead to a stronger reaction. Foundations are NOT supposed to replace government funding and cannot do so even if they wanted to.
  • Foundations will see that the tempting fad to fund hybrid for-profit and non-profit ventures has only a limited applicability. Some cases have been very successful but In most cases, human and quality of life organizations will never be able to generate the capital or income to be self sustaining without soft money gifts.
  • I hope that there is growing sophistication in understanding the value and appropriateness of outcome measures and evaluations. When properly understood, they are of great value. When inappropriately applied, they are destructive and counterproductive. Funders need to learn when, why, and how.
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