12 Ways Foundations Are Transforming Themselves to Transform Their Impact

Governance – Foundations and Impact
Being the Change
FSG – with funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Democracy Fund, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Humanity United, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Omidyar Group.
April 2018 :: 80 pages

As foundations adopt new approaches for creating social change, they must also adapt their internal practices.

To achieve meaningful impact at scale, many foundations are aiming to influence the actions and investments of the public and private sectors, as well as address the complex and deeply entrenched conditions that hold social problems in place. To do so, foundations are not only offering grant funding, but are also expanding how they apply their assets, knowledge, skills, networks, and people in new ways.

There is a wealth of information on how to adapt strategies to create impact at scale and to change systems; however, less has been written about what internal practices are needed to make this happen. To find out, we interviewed 114 practitioners representing 50 funders and 8 philanthropic services organizations that have gone through or advised internal transformation. Our interviews yielded surprising commonalities. Whether the foundations had grantmaking budgets of $5 million, $50 million, or $500 million, they agreed that new practices are needed in the areas of staffing philosophy, structure and design, skill development, and supportive culture (see chart on next page).

By experimenting with these practices, foundations hope to foster connectivity, vibrancy, and deep engagement both internally (across all people and parts of their organization) and externally (with grantees, community members, and other partners), ultimately opening up new avenues for impact.

The 12 Ways Foundations Are Transforming Themselves to Transform Their Impact
Redefining capacity needs by:
[1] Viewing staff as impact multipliers, not cost drivers
[2] Designing teams based on functions, not formulas
[3] Using size-based benchmarking as a compass, not ruler

Unlocking new sources of value by:
[4] Coloring outside the lines of classic philanthropic giving
[5] Transforming backoffice support into front-line impact
[6] Busting silos between issues, people, and teams

Reconceiving and nurturing talent by:
[7] Seeking out and supporting five key mindsets
[8] Welcoming and valuing diverse and lived experience
[9] Boosting breadth and depth of professional development

Fostering openness and authenticity by:
[10] Committing to continuous learning and adaptation
[11] Attending to power dynamics with partners
[12] Mirroring internally what is sought