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Strategic Philanthropy

Strategic Philanthropy in Action: Highlights from 2019 and Resources for 2020

By December 19, 2019December 1st, 2021No Comments

Bold vision. A willingness to take risks and experiment. Close attention to results. These are some of the qualities of high-impact philanthropy that are captured in TPI’s 30 lessons learned in pursuit of deep social impact, as shared in June when we launched our 30th anniversary celebration. In reflecting on 2019, I am certain TPI’s founder Peter Karoff would be pleased with how so many funders – individuals and families, corporations, foundations, and others – are putting these lessons into action for sustainable change. All of us at TPI continue to be inspired by the clients, advisors, and other partners we have the privilege of working with. We are proud to share here some highlights from our recent work, shaped in large part by the new lessons and insights we’ve gained. We hope our learnings and the resources we share with the field can help support your efforts in some way, too.

Having Greater Impact across Borders

TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy, with generous support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, released The Thoughtful Funder’s Guide to Global Giving after conducting in-depth research and conversations with funders working around the world. The report is a valuable reference for those looking for powerful practices across all issues and geographies, and at any point along their philanthropic journey. Funders with particular interest in one or more of the three areas highlighted in the report – (1) increasing access to clean, safe water, (2) addressing the global refugee response crisis, and (3) improving conditions for women and girls – will find deeper insights on these issues in particular, with ideas for new approaches and funder collaboration.

Ramping Up into Agents of True Change

One favorite 2019 story on this blog nicely illustrates some of the challenges funders can face when ramping up their philanthropy as they move toward higher-impact work. An initial stated goal may shift and evolve over time and with experience, as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation discovered. As it deepened its understanding of the real needs of the communities served, the Foundation became pivotal in mobilizing communities and HPHC employees to come together around community gardens across New England. Families now enjoy fresh, affordable produce, and their lives intertwine and connect with those of neighbors they might not have met otherwise. Other funders who are ready to leverage giving more strategically should check out both of TPI’s seminal resources on ramping up philanthropy in size and/or impact.

Transforming Lives and Creating a More Equitable Society

Philanthropy has an important role to play in tackling the complex factors behind the achievement gap as well as low college completion rates for students from disadvantaged communities. To address these issues, we continue to help more and more funders create powerful scholarship and college success programs. We are particularly proud of the evolving strategies and ways in which these programs are changing lives, and over the years we have learned there are a number of common elements critical to helping young people thrive and graduate. Typically, students who are both low income and first generation to attend college have a 21% chance of graduating within six years, compared with their better-resourced peers who are 57% likely to graduate in that timeframe. In contrast, six-year graduation rates for participants in TPI programs, designed for and supported by visionary funders, range from 84-97%. Those selected into these programs are typically from low-income families, and many are first generation college-goers or face other significant challenges. With this track record of success, these models offer a framework that can be emulated in other communities and regions.

Unleashing More Capital for Good

The combined forces of rising numbers of women controlling wealth along with interest in impact investing led to the 2019 launch of Invest for Better, a non-profit, open-source campaign and resource site. With TPI’s leadership, an impressive Steering Committee, and support from more than a dozen national foundations, Invest for Better first delivered an initial, robust set of free resources for potential impact investors, including tools to help women figure out what’s in their portfolios, how to educate other stakeholders about the solid returns possible, and how to find a financial advisor with impact investing know-how. Within a few months, the site added a downloadable Invest for Better Circle Toolkit for women who wish to lead a circle of friends or other associates as a community of new impact investors. Invest for Better Circles have launched in multiple cities, and the site is building a strong secondary audience among financial advisors for its insights and advantages in drawing new clients or deepening relationships with female clients in particular who are assuming greater control of wealth. Another resource, on amplifying philanthropy through impact investing, will kick off the campaign’s second year when it’s released in January.

Supporting Strong Leaders and Building Capacity

The Russell Berrie Foundation, since its inception, has focused on honoring and inspiring great leaders. For 23 years, the Foundation has recognized “uncommon and unsung” heroes throughout New Jersey through the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award program. To spark ideas for the next phase of this program, the Foundation engaged TPI to conduct a national research scan exploring other award and fellowship programs that specifically support awardees in the areas of leadership development, capacity building, and network creation. The resulting report on exemplary fellowship programs highlights models that have clearly defined goals and powerful strategies to deepen engagement of program participants, provide valuable coaching and other supports, build networks that connect participants in ways that have lasting impact, and enlist valuable external partners who contribute to program success. TPI and the Berrie Foundation hope these key learnings inspire more funders to consider how they can promote positive social change by developing leadership skills and knowledge on which we all can build.

The Year Ahead

There are so many other stories and examples of deep impact. It is truly an honor to be involved in the efforts of funders who are serious about their philanthropic journey and committed to moving up the TPI Philanthropic Curve. I am inspired every day by my colleagues and clients, and by the important work being done by so many in this field. And at the same time, the world can feel like a daunting place with intractable challenges. Whether you are an individual donor, involved in family or corporate philanthropy, or part of a foundation, my closing thought is a challenge: Let’s not rest on our laurels or be content with how far we have come. Let’s push ourselves to go further and deeper, and to work together to uncover even more effective ways to spark lasting impact.

With that said, I hope this post inspires some reflection during this holiday season and a starting point for considering what might be possible in the year ahead. All of us at The Philanthropic Initiative appreciate your joining us here on the blog, and sharing your responses and reactions. We are lucky to be part of an incredible community of change agents, and wish you happy holidays and an inspiring, engaged, and rewarding New Year.