The three decades following the height of the civil rights movement, the War on Poverty, and the end of the Vietnam War have seen both progress and growing difficulties at home and around the globe. In that same period, the number of grantmaking foundations in the US has more than doubled to over 70,000. Their assets have grown more than four-fold to over $550 billion, grantmaking has increased by over 400 percent to over $36 billion annually, and an aggregate of more than $380 billion has been provided in support of nonprofit activities.1
Over this same period, many foundations have dedicated some of their resources to promoting positive social change head-on.2 Others have supported initiatives that have promoted such change, but without describing their grantmaking as such. Still more have taken the position that social change work is not important to their missions and they have directed their funding elsewhere.
Notwithstanding the value of all such enterprises, seemingly intractable social, economic, political, and environmental problems remain. Some have grown worse despite the best efforts of philanthropy. Foundation funding accounts for less than three percent of the nonprofit sector’s annual revenue, and its impacts are bound to be limited. However, unlike fees-for-service, government grants or contracts, or even individual donations – all of which often are tied to the immediate and palpable relief of individual suffering or need, the discretionary latitude of foundations’ funding can command the attention of nonprofit organizations and help shape their programmatic approaches to mission. This means that foundations can well be more important to the nonprofit sector, and to creating a better world, than their small proportionate funding share would suggest.
Caring to Change set out to cull the wisdom of those in the field as how to best realize grantmaking’s broader potential.
1 Foundation Center data for 1975 to 2005 (the most recent available in preparing for the launch of C2C), as used in a preparatory presentation for project interviewees – see the presentation appended to Foundations for the Common Good.
2 By “positive social change” we mean activity intended to alter dynamics that reduce needs or otherwise affect the Common Good by modifying social structures and institutions to achieve more democratic and equitable opportunities and outcomes in the distribution of economic, social, and political resources and power. Promoting “social change” means going beyond “relief” and “palliative remediation” to address ”cause.”
(74 pages, by Mark Rosenman, March 2010)
Caring to Change sought new notions about how grantmaking might better serve a foundation's mission while holding even broader benefit – helping it to be more effective at creating a better world. Building on the commentary and ideas of both foundation leaders and of those not often involved fully in setting strategy, particularly younger staff and people of color, we found that that the "Common Good" best organized and expressed the wisdom and the longing of those engaged by the project.
After offering information on the background of the project, Foundations for the Common Good explores the notion of the Common Good and its value base, argues that it is by serving the Common Good that foundations can be truly role-driven in realizing philanthropy's full potential, and suggests three broad strategies, with specific notions under each, that flow from the project's findings. Appended to the essay are lists of those involved and a summary of their critique of grantmaking, further detail on methodology and a fuller discussion of the Common Good. Also appended are a PowerPoint presentation used with interviewees, and a Chronicle of Philanthropy Opinion piece.