August 17, 2017

In Defense of Perpetuity

Phil Buchanan
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Limited-life foundations are currently all the rage, but Fleishman’s book reminds us that perpetual, endowed foundations are in many cases preferable.

Perpetuity is so yesterday. Or so it sometimes seems, as many high-profile philanthropists make clear their intention to do their “giving while living,” rather than establish endowed, perpetual institutions. The once-multibillion-dollar Atlantic Philanthropies is in the final stages of winding down operations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend down within 20 years of its founders’ deaths. And donors such as Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) have announced that their foundations will be time-limited.

Parker has gone so far as to publicly deride perpetual organizations. “The executive directors of most major private foundations, endowments, and other nonprofit institutions are dedicated, first and foremost, to preserving the resources and reputations of the institutions they run,” he wrote in a 2015 Wall Street Journal essay. “This is achieved by creating layers of bureaucracy to oversee the resources of the institution and prevent it from taking on too much risk.” The best way to avoid “philanthropic decay,” Parker argued, is “spending down all of your philanthropic assets during your own lifetime.”

But in his persuasive new book, Putting Wealth to Work, Duke University’s Joel Fleishman, formerly an executive at the Atlantic Philanthropies, argues that Parker has it wrong….>read more.


August 9, 2017

Working With Big Business Isn’t Always the Way for Foundations to Achieve Their Goals

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

There’s much talk lately among foundation leaders and major donors about the need to work in collaboration with business. Proclamations about “harnessing the power of the markets,” “sector agnosticism,” and “blurred boundaries” are now the norm at philanthropy conferences. Everyone nods.

Indeed, out of a list of 24 potentially promising practices for increasing philanthropy’s impact, foundation CEOs rated collaboration with business and other spheres in the top five in a survey conducted last year by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which I lead, Fifty-nine percent said that “foundations simultaneously collaborating with other foundations, business, government, and nonprofits” holds “a lot of promise” for boosting impact.

But in my work with grant makers and donors over the past 16 years, I have grown worried that too many are naïve about business as a “partner.”

Of course, business plays a crucial role as an employer, a provider of needed (and unneeded) products, and, sometimes, a driver of progress and innovation. Business, big and small, affects all of us. For good or ill (or a mix of both), it influences many of the challenges philanthropists and foundations seek to address. But these statements of the obvious are too often followed by a reflexive declaration that, therefore, “we need to work with business.”…>read more.


May 3, 2017

Barriers to Funder Collaboration and the Will to Overcome Them

Phil Buchanan
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Any thoughtful observer of philanthropy will note that, when working on stubborn societal problems, no single actor—even the wealthiest of foundations—can accomplish much by itself. This is both a historical fact and a present day reality.

Yet most would likely agree that there still isn’t enough collaboration and that the collaborations that do occur aren’t always effective. According to research we conducted at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), commissioned by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, foundation leaders see a lack of collaboration as a barrier to progress. However, they also believe more and better collaboration could unlock much more impact.

This begs the question, if foundation leaders themselves acknowledge collaboration as crucial, why isn’t it happening more?…>read more.

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