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Active, Intrepid and Egoless: New Postures of Philanthropy

By Amy Celep

In my previous post, I highlighted a critical question that the Conference on Scaling Impact reiterated for me: “Can replication alone get us to impact?”  Many leaders are recognizing that while replication of programs may spread positive outcomes and is critical to their strategy, replication alone is not sufficient to achieve transformational change, which we define as solving a social problem at the magnitude it exists.  They are finding that they must push beyond replication and incorporate alternative strategies—focused more on influence—such as advocacy, behavior and norm change, and community organizing.

The conference remarks delivered by philanthropic leaders like Rip Rapson (Kresge Foundation) and Jim Canales (James Irvine Foundation) suggested that some foundations are shifting to strategies that push beyond replication and that embrace bold, collective goals. The core shifts these leaders described included:

  1. Active Grantmaking vs. Passive Grantmaking: Philanthropic speakers discussed the move that many foundations are making from passive grantmaking to active grantmaking; in other words, shifting from giving grants to organizations doing “good,” to setting and driving a clear agenda toward a real result. While some organizations fear a sector in which foundations are prescribing and dictating the work of nonprofits, a move across philanthropy toward specificity, intentionality, and accountability should (1) allow for more efficient conversations and decisions about funding  and (2) promote alignment and collaboration among organizations.
  2. Embracing Risk vs. Controlling Risk: Jim Canales argued that we will be more effective at tackling social problems if philanthropy can learn to embrace risk instead of attempting to control it. An environment of taking smart, reasoned risks is one in which experimentation, learning, and innovation can thrive. As we take on daunting challenges in a complex, uncertain world, we cannot stick to rigid policies and “best practices,” we must promote behaviors that lead to continual evolution and improvement.
  3. Contribution vs. Attribution: Jim also asked conference-goers to embrace their contribution to solving social problems instead of spending undue energy and resources on establishing exactly what they can attribute to their own efforts.  If we lead with our social impact goals and check our egos at the door, the conversation is more likely to shift from taking credit and pursuing organizational growth to instead identifying areas of alignment where we can work together to achieve our goals.

These shifts toward setting bold goals, pursuing these goals with discipline, promoting experimentation, encouraging organizations to open their circle and sharing leadership reflect many of the practices we’ve seen across efforts that have realized transformational change.  As practitioners examine what success might look like beyond replicating programs and as foundations thoughtfully build an environment that incentivizes transformational practices, I look forward to the continued evolution of our conversations about what it really takes to scale impact.

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Amy Celep

About Amy Celep

As CEO of Community Wealth Partners, Amy Celep guides the organization’s strategic direction and oversees its more than 20 employees in their efforts to support partners in solving problems at the magnitude they exist. Amy was named to this role in April 2010, and since then has led the organization in developing and implementing a new strategy for greater impact, while achieving 50 percent revenue growth and securing a marquee list of partners. See Amy's full bio

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