If we started this year with optimism, sure that stability was within grasp, that sense of confidence and security was swiftly snatched away. From an attack on the Capitol to the pandemic’s resurgence to continued polarization within and outside of our borders, 2021 has seen a doubling-down of the challenges we collectively face.
But, as surely as the challenges have been relentless, we have seen forces of good in philanthropy face them squarely. Many funders have continued to deliver the changes their grantees and partners have long asked for, including reducing burdens on grantees, providing more unrestricted support, and centering racial equity in their work — and many say they will continue these positive steps in the future, as a CEP report released late this year found.
This year’s most-read blog posts reflect the way that the philanthropic sector has taken on the trials of the year, and that out of that struggle come vital reexaminations, crucial conversations, and thoughtful reflections from leaders in philanthropy and CEP’s own staff to guide our way forward.
With that, here are the most-read CEP blog posts of 2021.
10. Giving is Not Like Investing By Phil Buchanan
“The fact is, however, that there is no formula — no ‘plug and play’ analogy to be adopted by the world of giving. There are many choices and many ways to be an effective giver, but none are simple.” Read more.
9. Why Program Officers Should Embrace the Boring By Dana Schmidt
“[T]he boring practices of good philanthropy are also the bedrock of building strong organizations, supporting a vibrant social sector, and, ultimately, catalyzing the broad, long-term changes our world needs.” Read more.
8. Trust, Unrestricted Grants, and the Golden Rule for Funders By John Rendel
“My golden rule for funders is this: if you don’t trust the organization, don’t trust the project! And conversely, if you do trust them, give them unrestricted funds.” Read more.
7. Project Grants Need Not Be the Enemy By Rodney Christopher
“I believe that, when structured differently, project grants can offer at least one additional path to addressing the nonprofit starvation cycle. With some meaningful changes from the current norm, project grantmaking can be consistent with supporting nonprofit financial health.” Read more.
6. Re-Purposing Foundation Boards By Phil Buchanan
“Widely held mental models for good governance — stressing competition and a narrow focus on single institutions — simply don’t make sense in a philanthropic and nonprofit context. But what does?” Read more.
5. Re-Evaluating the Consultant’s Role in Social Change By Leah Reiman
“In my research, consultants often viewed helping their clients manage within the existing hierarchies and power dynamics of nonprofit work as the best and most practical way to support them. As such, a key question for all consultants is the degree to which they want to pursue structural change versus focusing on helping organizations succeed within the current system.” Read more.
4. Why Do We Bother? The Tragedy of Foundation Reporting Requirements By Kevin Bolduc
“[F]oundation staff and grantees alike often suffer under the burden of an invented system, filled with bespoke reporting requirements that don’t seem to be doing anyone much good. I’m going to take a risk here and suggest that funders should throw out reporting as it exists altogether.” Read more.
3. It’s Time for Philanthropy to Address Its Erasure of AAPI Voices and Perspectives By Grace Nicolette
“It is essential that funders interrogate whether their organization is inadvertently perpetuating inequality through erasing AAPI voices and perspectives. It’s safe to assume that you may be unless you’ve taken specific actions, as erasure and neglect tend to be the default modes of American culture towards AAPIs.” Read more.
2. Is MacKenzie Scott Going to Fix Strategic Philanthropy? By Ruth Levine
“Scott’s giving shows that foundations that do engage in intensive due diligence and establish close relationships with grantees can do that work not only for themselves, but for the collective benefit of the larger philanthropic community and the organizations and communities they seek to help.” Read more.
1. Backlash: A Sharp Right Turn by a Philanthropy Membership Organization By Phil Buchanan
“The shift at the Philanthropy Roundtable is pronounced enough that I think it deserves discussion. Caricature and denial of the role of racism in American history and today definitely won’t move this country forward. And it’s just wrong.” Read more.
As we enter 2022, perhaps we do so with less of a sense of assuredness that stability awaits us, up around the bend. And maybe that is a good thing — while the ground continues to shift beneath our feet, we will strive to build a better foundation, one that is broader, more inclusive, and more equitable.
Thank you for your readership this year; we look forward to continuing to host thoughtful, engaged dialogue on the role of philanthropy in 2022 and beyond.
Chloe Heskett is an editor & writer, programming and external relations, at CEP.