Can Foundations Radically Transform How They Learn?

In partnership with the Center for Evaluation Innovation and with funding from Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, Andrew Taylor and Ben Liadsky have been exploring themes and issues related to organizational and cross-organizational learning, evaluation, and strategy. Below is an excerpt from our first blog post related to this work.

In the face of COVID-19 and the systemic racism highlighted by the police murder of George Floyd, philanthropy is looking for ways to help nonprofits respond effectively to a complex and ever-changing context.

For many nonprofits, long-planned strategies and projects have gone by the wayside. Priorities have shifted, new needs have emerged, and old assumptions no longer hold true. Foundations and nonprofits, and even the consultants who support them, are wondering where they should stay the course and where they need to radically transform their work in both how they distribute resources and how they share power.

Foundations and nonprofits need to learn as fast as they can how to pivot.

Famously process-heavy and slow, foundations on the whole appear to be experimenting more, adapting and moving faster, and giving nonprofits more leeway to adjust their spending and strategies than they ever have.

Many foundations have revamped onerous bureaucratic processes into rapid-response grantmaking with few application and reporting requirements. Others have loosened spending restrictions on existing grants, offering the flexibility needed to weather the economic crisis. Internal deliberation and multi-layered approval processes have been dramatically shortened or bypassed altogether (e.g., see how Canadian philanthropy is responding).

At the same time, notoriously accountable to no one, philanthropy is experiencing external pressure from the broader social sector at levels it has not previously experienced. Many are calling for higher annual payout rates in Canada (where it is 3.5% of total assets per year) and in the US (where it is 5%). During the pandemic, and in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, foundations are being called to account for their values and to ensure practices are aligned with them.

Read the full blog post on the Center for Evaluation Innovation’s website.

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