More Feedback Would Improve Foundations’ Service to Society

Fay Twersky

Fay Twersky

This article is cross posted from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with their permission>


“We value your feedback as a customer of our services. Would you be willing to answer a few questions at the end of this?”

Airlines, online retailers, medical offices, and restaurants all ask these kinds of questions. They recognize that getting regular customer feedback helps them continuously improve. It doesn’t mean they take every suggestion, or that businesses are handing over the reins of decisions to their customers.

Far from it.

But the consistent avenues for feedback do mean that businesses can listen and consider what they hear, and then make adjustments to respond to customer preferences, thereby improving their outcomes—the bottom line. Often, businesses publicly share the changes they make because customers appreciate responsive businesses.

What if the people meant to benefit from the programs that foundations support, as well as the nonprofits we finance, could contribute their needs, opinions, and experiences to help us improve our current grant-making programs and suggest ideas for the future? Imagine if all of us working for social and environmental change understood better what the intended beneficiaries of our work think and what we could do differently to ensure that we achieve our goals.

We know, for example, that patients who report high-quality experiences with their doctors and nurses—where the health professionals clearly explain conditions and offer treatment choices—often have better health outcomes than those who report low-quality experiences. And when students have overall positive feelings about their classroom experiences, they fare better academically.

That means measuring how patients, students, and others feel about the institutions that serve them can pay fast dividends.

Rather than waiting years to find out if a student will graduate, nonprofit and foundation staff members can measure what the student thinks about the school she attends and make real-time adjustments that ensure she achieves. But that won’t happen if we don’t make a deliberate effort to get feedback about the experience.

As foundation leaders, we believe that lack of openness and input from the people nonprofits serve prevents us from being as effective as we want and need to be. We have been asking ourselves how the foundation world can do better.

How can we learn more about the ways people experience the services and products our grantees provide? Do they find the services useful? Relevant? Are the hours of operation convenient? Is there room for improvement? If we knew the answers, might we also improve the outcomes?

It’s time to make gathering such feedback routine so that all of us, at both foundations and other nonprofits, reliably consider the perspectives and experiences of those we seek to help.

But we know such efforts are costly, in both time and money, and too few experiments have been conducted to figure out the most effective ways to get feedback that matters.

To help elevate the voices of the people our grant money is designed to help, we have joined with five other grant makers to create the Fund for Shared Insight, which will award $5-million to $6-million a year over the next three years.

In addition to Ford and Hewlett, we are joined by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the JPB Foundation, Liquidnet, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Shared Insight will award one- to three-year grants to nonprofit organizations that seek new ways to get feedback and use the findings to improve their programs and services, and conduct research on whether those improvements—and the willingness to listen to clients—make a difference. We’ll also finance projects that take other steps to promote more openness among grant makers, nonprofits, and the public.

We further commit to sharing what we are learning—both what works successfully and lessons learned when things don’t go as planned.

Those insights and experiments will help, but we also need more donors and nonprofits to join this crusade, and to make asking for feedback part of our everyday routine.

You can also listen to:

Live Chat: Discussing the Fund for Shared Insight

Hilary Pennington is vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression Program. Fay Twersky directs the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group. They are co-chairs of the Fund for Shared Insight, which is housed at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

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Foundations urged to turn the tide on global warming while there’s still time

Jeremy Leggett

Jeremy Leggett

Time is running out for society on global warming. We have to speed up our response and the world’s philanthropists and foundations could make a crucial difference. This is the message of the largest and most international declaration ever made by environmentalists, signed by 160 leaders from 46 countries, and published in the International New York Times on 15 September.

The 160, including me, who have all been honoured with major environmental awards, are calling on foundations and philanthropists to use their hundreds of billions of dollars of endowments to turn the tide on global warming while there is still time.

The group say the world’s philanthropic foundations have the power to create a tipping point in climate action – ‘to trigger a survival reflex in society’ – materially helping those working towards a global climate treaty.

We are on course for 4C to 6C of global warming, with devastating consequences for the whole world, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The environmentalists say bluntly that they are ‘terrified that we will lose our ability to feed ourselves, run out of potable water, increase the scope for war, and cause the very fabric of civilization to crash’.

Global warming on this scale threatens to damage or destroy all the good work done by foundations. Programmes on clean water, health, feeding the world, poverty eradication, and so on ‘will be devalued and even destroyed’. The financial markets where most of foundations’ money is invested will be thrown into chaos, leaving their endowments ‘effectively as stranded assets’.

So foundations have every reason to act now. We want them to:

  • invest directly in clean energy companies and low-carbon projects
  • withdraw investments from fossil fuel companies or campaign as shareholders for them not to develop new reserves
  • make grants to support clean energy start-ups and stimulate the development of low-carbon markets

We have issued our appeal in the week ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York with the aim of adding a sense of urgency to that event, and also hope and momentum because foundations around the world are indeed beginning to act on climate change.

The Divest-Invest coalition, launched in January this year, now includes foundations with assets worth $2 billion, which have committed to pull their assets out of fossil fuels and to back clean energy instead.

Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund in the US and a leader of the coalition, says: ‘The escalating climate crisis threatens the programmes of every philanthropic organization. Growing numbers of foundations are shifting their money from fossil fuels to clean energy so their investments help solve this crisis instead of contributing to it. We hope that our stand will encourage others to take the urgent action we now need to prevent runaway global warming.’

Uday Khemka, managing trustee of the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation in India, says: ‘As an Indian foundation we are intensely aware that global warming of four degrees would bring unimaginable suffering, causing a significant collapse in the systems which provide food, water and safe homes for hundreds of millions in India, and vastly overwhelming all our development work for the most vulnerable in our society. Foundations can make a big impact by investing in a low-carbon future, speaking out about the urgency of taking action, and showing the way to governments, companies and investors.’

In the longer term, one idea I am personally very hopeful about is for foundations to require companies they invest in (whether as equity, debt or grants) to donate 5 per cent of their profits to the climate/development battle.

Solarcentury, the company I founded 15 years ago because of my concerns about fossil-fuel overdependency, has created a charity with 5 per cent of its annual profits, SolarAid. This in turn has founded the biggest retailer of solar lighting in Africa, SunnyMoney, in just four years. 100 per cent of profits from that retail venture will be recycled to SolarAid’s climate/development mission.

Jeremy Leggett is an entrepreneur, author and activist.

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Social Impact Investing – are we nearly there yet?

Joe Ludlow

Joe Ludlow

On Monday the final report of the snappily titled ‘UK National Advisory Board to The Social Impact Investment Taskforce Established Under the UK’s Presidency of the G8′  was published. You are forgiven if you haven’t read it yet; but if you are interested in Social Impact Investment you probably should find time to give it the once over.

The two line synopsis is this: (i) it charts the development of social impact investment in the UK over the past 15 years; (ii) it makes some recommendations for next developments. It is similar in style and approach to the Social Investment Taskforce, also chaired by Sir Ronald Cohen, which set the direction for the field of social investment in the UK in the early 2000s.

Social impact investment is a field I’ve worked in for ten of those 15 years, and reading the report I felt the story it tells is an interesting example of how long it takes for radical systemic innovations to take hold, and some of the features that lead to progress (not yet success, it is still a field in its infancy!)

When I stumbled into social impact investing in 2005, none of my friends or family could get their head around what on earth it was I was doing. They generally assumed I was some sort of fundraiser for charities. Frankly, we still struggle to explain to the general public what social impact investment is all about (the first question to Sir Ronald Cohen on the Today programme on Monday was ‘what is it?’). But look harder at Social Impact Investing in 2014 and you’ll see activities and innovations at all levels necessary to change the way organisations delivering social impact are financed:

-       a range of new organisations have entered field with innovative approaches (for example Bridges Ventures, Big Issue Invest, Venturesome, Social Finance, Bethnal Green Ventures)

-       product innovation has also been highly significant: e.g. from social venture capital funds, social incubators, charity bond issues, and the misnamed but smart social impact ‘bond’

-       process innovation has also been necessary: significant developments in approaches to the use of evidence (what works) and impact measurement approaches (NPC, SROI Network)

-       regulatory and legal model changes have been necessary: from Community Interest Company, the Social Value Act, to the recent Social Investment Tax Relief

-       and in my opinion, most vitally, the field has benefitted from a high degree of committed leadership and entrepreneurialism. I’m not just talking about big cheeses here (although high level representation, lobbying etc, has been important) but the field has been advanced by some genuine and passionate entrepreneurs who have taken risks with their careers, livelihoods and sanity (Jonathan Jenkins, Geoff Burnand, Caroline Mason, John Kingston, James Perry, Rod Schwartz, Daniel Brewer to name just a few).

Finally, a brief moment of personal indulgence. I’ve had the privilege to work in the industry for a long time, and with two organisations that I consider to have been the most radical and risk taking in their contribution to the field over 15 years – Venturesome and Nesta.

At Venturesome we saw it as our mission to test new approaches, to learn and to publish our learning – good and bad – in order to develop the field; our approach was always to try and be humble, seeing development of the field as a whole as the measure of our success, not what was attributed to us.

For the last four years I’ve seen first-hand how Nesta has fulfilled its risk-taking role, championing innovation in social impact investment. Many of the organisations and individuals I’ve mentioned have benefited from Nesta’s support. Nesta has often been one of the first to commit to the key initiatives cited in the G8 report from Bridges Social Entrepreneurs Fund, to pioneering work on investment readiness with Unltd, to the prototypes and early research that framed the plan for Big Society Capital.

For Nesta, and for me, the focus of our interest in social impact investment is now on delivering direct impact by investing in ventures like Oomph!, Ffrees, Ai-Media. we’re using the strong system of social impact investment that now exists in the UK to help new ventures take social innovations to people who need them. So, we’ve only just begun…..

Joe Ludlow, Nesta Impact Investments

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Profit with Purpose Business: the new frontier for the social economy

Alliance magazine

Alliance magazine

Speaking on the day of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce launch, UnLtd CEO Cliff Prior referred to a new business model that could mark ‘the threshold of a social business revolution’:

‘ The new Profit-with-Purpose business model allows start up and rapidly growing social businesses access to the equity investment they need, and at the same time allows them to be social, stay social, and prove it by showing their results.’

The new Profit-with-Purpose Business model has been created by the Taskforce’s Mission Alignment Working Group, chaired by Cliff Prior, with input from an international panel of experts and practitioners. The Group’s report, Profit with Purpose Businesses, is published today alongside the main Taskforce report, and sets out the three pillars of the new approach:

  • Intent: committing to a social purpose
  • Duties: creating duties for directors and officers to strive for and deliver the social purpose
  • Reporting: measuring and reporting on social impact – both directly on the intended social purpose and being transparent more broadly

The report draws on legal innovations in various countries, including the Benefit Corporation model from the United States and market mechanisms such as the B Lab accreditation system. The report includes a full draft of legislation for countries wishing to adopt the new model.

Click here to read the full press release and here to download the report.

The launch of the Profit with Purpose Businesses report was part of a wider launch. A group of leading experts in social investment from the UK have set out their vision for the next stages of development of the social impact investment market in the UK. The report Building a social impact investment market: The UK experience is part of the culmination of a year’s work, following the launch of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, led by Sir Ronald Cohen, and established under the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2013.

The UK Advisory Board published its final report yesterday and three working group papers. See www.socialimpactinvestment.org and www.bigsocietycapital.com/social-investment-research-library

In response to the challenges identified in the report, the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at London’s Cass Business School has announced the recruitment of Mark Salway as Director of Social Impact Investing.

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Putting emergent philanthropy into practice? Some tips from Northern Ireland

In a recent article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’, John Kania, Mark Kramer and Patty Russell suggest moving away from a ‘rigid and predictive model of strategy’ to ‘emergent strategic philanthropy’. On Thursday 18 September, foundation staff and board members who want to learn to put this latest brand of ‘emergent strategic philanthropy’ into practice are invited to take part in a Stanford Social Innovation Review webinar. ‘Emergent strategy can help foundations that are tackling difficult social challenges by helping funders become more relevant and effective,’ says the introductory blurb.

As initial responses to the article came largely from the US and from people who write regularly about philanthropy, we at Alliance decided to try to broaden the debate. We went back to the contributors to the March issue of Alliance, which focused on ‘Grantmaking for Social Change’, and asked them how the issues raised resonated with them. We published a weeklong series of blogs, starting with Kathleen Cravero’s on 12 August.

As our contribution to the webinar discussion on 18 August, we are republishing in full Avila Kilmurray’s response, ‘Log frame or log jam?’ We encourage people to read this and the other blogs in the series, as well as Kania, Kramer and Russell’s response to them.

Avila Kilmurray

Avila Kilmurray

Log frame or log jam? A response to ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’

After 20 years as director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland I have a confession to make.

I have long termed the logframe approach the ‘log jam’ framework.
I have consistently consigned grant applications claiming that they were ‘at the cutting edge’ of social change to the wastepaper basket
The notion of a theory of social change only caught up with me some six years ago and has since caused me serious epistemological quandaries.

Hence I come to the current debate on ‘emergent strategic philanthropy’ (a Kania, Kramer & Russell confection, 2014) as something of an outlier to the in-world of academic conceptualization of philanthropy. Emerging from the clutter of a paper-strewn desk, the more cynical me cannot help wondering if there is a growth industry of academics talking to academics and/or policy gurus employed by well-endowed foundations – perhaps this sector represents an emerging market in itself!

Notwithstanding these wayward thoughts, I am a firm believer in critical self-reflection and analysis, given that philanthropic organizations – no matter how small – have the luxury of financial resources that position them as power-holders. The pity is that all too few acknowledge this fact and what it entails in practice.

So then – how real is the ongoing debate to me, the staff that I worked with and the community based partners that we fund? Well, I can’t say that it keeps them awake at night. Managing a meagrely endowed community foundation in the contested and violently unsettled conditions of Northern Ireland is a sharp lesson in keeping the head down, the ear to the ground and a weather eye on what might be coming down the tracks. We didn’t have to be told to ‘sense the environment’ – or as we termed it ‘keep a finger on the pulse’ – we had to do it to survive. While the science of predicting project outputs, let alone outcomes, for us was more the art form of answering the ‘what if?’ query. What if the peace process disintegrated? What if a fraught marching session set one community against another? Indeed we spent many hours in futile argument with the managers of EU-funded PEACE programmes caveating the logframed target of peace and reconciliation. In the end everybody involved was forced into what I termed ‘a minuet of mutual deception’; we told the EU bureaucrats what they needed to hear; the funded projects assured us that they would meet unrealistic objectives; and we pretended to believe them. And so it went on. Yet the reality was that some exceptionally good and courageous work was supported (including work around the re-integration of political ex-prisoners; provision for victims/survivors of violence and community development with many of the most marginalized and alienated communities), while the lodestar for the foundation was a clear set of values and ethos. It was the latter, rather than any artificial clarity of short-term project objectives, that kept us honest both to ourselves and to our community partners. Yes of course we identified what we would want to see, but all too often it was a case of one step forward, two steps back, along the tortuous path of getting there.

So were we engaged in emergent strategic philanthropy? Who knows – or indeed cares? Certainly we consulted widely as to priorities and actually took the time to listen to those groups and communities that were most affected by poverty and violence. Many programmes had Policy Advisory Committees made up of activists, academics, statutory decision-makers and interested individuals. They were all involved on a volunteer basis, and given the diversity of background and experience every effort was made to avoid any unwarranted collation of exclusionary terminology. Indeed, whenever I ventured to inject a concept or theory picked up through conference attendance or reading there would be audible moans from any grantee within earshot for fear that the community foundation would lurch to embrace a new strategic approach. Change, when it was introduced, had to take account of grantee perception – they were our partners not guinea-pigs and they were never slow to voice their reservations.

So to the nuances of the current debate – I am impressed that Kania, Kramer and Russell admit their disappointment in the results of the previous strategic philanthropy approach; I am less happy, however, with a refurbished narrative which seems to beg, borrow and steal from a pot-pourri of economics, management-speak, astrophysics and ecology. Can we not just recognize that when any funder sets her/himself the task of addressing complex issues, such as social justice and conflict transformation, there needs to be provision for continuous consultation, practice, reflection and change? Is it not possible to have academic challenge and insights without the need for translation?

Although the article shares some elegant quotes (my own favourite from Einstein is ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’), I was left pondering as to what we might call the place advocated by Kania, Kramer and Russell, where ‘rigor and flexibility meet’ – the philanthropic fitness suite? And is it overly jaundiced to view an ‘emergent strategic philanthropist’ as a newly fledged butterfly weighed down by systems maps? As we shift from strategic philanthropy to strategic philanthropy with the gloss of uncertainty, I still raise my glass to inclusive visioning, trial, error and learning drawn from a clear evidence base and, preferably, presented in everyday language.

Avila Kilmurray was director of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland from 1994 to 2014. She has recently joined the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

After 20 years as director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland I have a confession to make.

  • I have long termed the logframe approach the ‘log jam’ framework.
  • I have consistently consigned grant applications claiming that they were ‘at the cutting edge’ of social change to the wastepaper basket
  • The notion of a theory of social change only caught up with me some six years ago and has since caused me serious epistemological quandaries.

Hence I come to the current debate on ‘emergent strategic philanthropy’ (a Kania, Kramer & Russell confection, 2014) as something of an outlier to the in-world of academic conceptualization of philanthropy. Emerging from the clutter of a paper-strewn desk, the more cynical me cannot help wondering if there is a growth industry of academics talking to academics and/or policy gurus employed by well-endowed foundations – perhaps this sector represents an emerging market in itself!

Notwithstanding these wayward thoughts, I am a firm believer in critical self-reflection and analysis, given that philanthropic organizations – no matter how small – have the luxury of financial resources that position them as power-holders. The pity is that all too few acknowledge this fact and what it entails in practice.

So then – how real is the ongoing debate to me, the staff that I worked with and the community based partners that we fund? Well, I can’t say that it keeps them awake at night. Managing a meagrely endowed community foundation in the contested and violently unsettled conditions of Northern Ireland is a sharp lesson in keeping the head down, the ear to the ground and a weather eye on what might be coming down the tracks. We didn’t have to be told to ‘sense the environment’ – or as we termed it ‘keep a finger on the pulse’ – we had to do it to survive. While the science of predicting project outputs, let alone outcomes, for us was more the art form of answering the ‘what if?’ query. What if the peace process disintegrated? What if a fraught marching session set one community against another? Indeed we spent many hours in futile argument with the managers of EU-funded PEACE programmes caveating the logframed target of peace and reconciliation. In the end everybody involved was forced into what I termed ‘a minuet of mutual deception’; we told the EU bureaucrats what they needed to hear; the funded projects assured us that they would meet unrealistic objectives; and we pretended to believe them. And so it went on. Yet the reality was that some exceptionally good and courageous work was supported (including work around the re-integration of political ex-prisoners; provision for victims/survivors of violence and community development with many of the most marginalized and alienated communities), while the lodestar for the foundation was a clear set of values and ethos. It was the latter, rather than any artificial clarity of short-term project objectives, that kept us honest both to ourselves and to our community partners. Yes of course we identified what we would want to see, but all too often it was a case of one step forward, two steps back, along the tortuous path of getting there.

So were we engaged in emergent strategic philanthropy? Who knows – or indeed cares? Certainly we consulted widely as to priorities and actually took the time to listen to those groups and communities that were most affected by poverty and violence. Many programmes had Policy Advisory Committees made up of activists, academics, statutory decision-makers and interested individuals. They were all involved on a volunteer basis, and given the diversity of background and experience every effort was made to avoid any unwarranted collation of exclusionary terminology. Indeed, whenever I ventured to inject a concept or theory picked up through conference attendance or reading there would be audible moans from any grantee within earshot for fear that the community foundation would lurch to embrace a new strategic approach. Change, when it was introduced, had to take account of grantee perception – they were our partners not guinea-pigs and they were never slow to voice their reservations.

So to the nuances of the current debate – I am impressed that Kania, Kramer and Russell admit their disappointment in the results of the previous strategic philanthropy approach; I am less happy, however, with a refurbished narrative which seems to beg, borrow and steal from a pot-pourri of economics, management-speak, astrophysics and ecology. Can we not just recognize that when any funder sets her/himself the task of addressing complex issues, such as social justice and conflict transformation, there needs to be provision for continuous consultation, practice, reflection and change? Is it not possible to have academic challenge and insights without the need for translation?

Although the article shares some elegant quotes (my own favourite from Einstein is ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’), I was left pondering as to what we might call the place advocated by Kania, Kramer and Russell, where ‘rigor and flexibility meet’ – the philanthropic fitness suite? And is it overly jaundiced to view an ‘emergent strategic philanthropist’ as a newly fledged butterfly weighed down by systems maps? As we shift from strategic philanthropy to strategic philanthropy with the gloss of uncertainty, I still raise my glass to inclusive visioning, trial, error and learning drawn from a clear evidence base and, preferably, presented in everyday language.

Avila Kilmurray was director of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland from 1994 to 2014. She has recently joined the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

- See more at: http://philanthropynews.alliancemagazine.org/2014/08/13/log-frame-or-log-jam-a-response-to-strategic-philanthropy-for-a-complex-world/#sthash.eYFK7LHD.dpuf

After 20 years as director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland I have a confession to make.

I have long termed the logframe approach the ‘log jam’ framework.
I have consistently consigned grant applications claiming that they were ‘at the cutting edge’ of social change to the wastepaper basket
The notion of a theory of social change only caught up with me some six years ago and has since caused me serious epistemological quandaries.

Hence I come to the current debate on ‘emergent strategic philanthropy’ (a Kania, Kramer & Russell confection, 2014) as something of an outlier to the in-world of academic conceptualization of philanthropy. Emerging from the clutter of a paper-strewn desk, the more cynical me cannot help wondering if there is a growth industry of academics talking to academics and/or policy gurus employed by well-endowed foundations – perhaps this sector represents an emerging market in itself!

Notwithstanding these wayward thoughts, I am a firm believer in critical self-reflection and analysis, given that philanthropic organizations – no matter how small – have the luxury of financial resources that position them as power-holders. The pity is that all too few acknowledge this fact and what it entails in practice.

So then – how real is the ongoing debate to me, the staff that I worked with and the community based partners that we fund? Well, I can’t say that it keeps them awake at night. Managing a meagrely endowed community foundation in the contested and violently unsettled conditions of Northern Ireland is a sharp lesson in keeping the head down, the ear to the ground and a weather eye on what might be coming down the tracks. We didn’t have to be told to ‘sense the environment’ – or as we termed it ‘keep a finger on the pulse’ – we had to do it to survive. While the science of predicting project outputs, let alone outcomes, for us was more the art form of answering the ‘what if?’ query. What if the peace process disintegrated? What if a fraught marching session set one community against another? Indeed we spent many hours in futile argument with the managers of EU-funded PEACE programmes caveating the logframed target of peace and reconciliation. In the end everybody involved was forced into what I termed ‘a minuet of mutual deception’; we told the EU bureaucrats what they needed to hear; the funded projects assured us that they would meet unrealistic objectives; and we pretended to believe them. And so it went on. Yet the reality was that some exceptionally good and courageous work was supported (including work around the re-integration of political ex-prisoners; provision for victims/survivors of violence and community development with many of the most marginalized and alienated communities), while the lodestar for the foundation was a clear set of values and ethos. It was the latter, rather than any artificial clarity of short-term project objectives, that kept us honest both to ourselves and to our community partners. Yes of course we identified what we would want to see, but all too often it was a case of one step forward, two steps back, along the tortuous path of getting there.

So were we engaged in emergent strategic philanthropy? Who knows – or indeed cares? Certainly we consulted widely as to priorities and actually took the time to listen to those groups and communities that were most affected by poverty and violence. Many programmes had Policy Advisory Committees made up of activists, academics, statutory decision-makers and interested individuals. They were all involved on a volunteer basis, and given the diversity of background and experience every effort was made to avoid any unwarranted collation of exclusionary terminology. Indeed, whenever I ventured to inject a concept or theory picked up through conference attendance or reading there would be audible moans from any grantee within earshot for fear that the community foundation would lurch to embrace a new strategic approach. Change, when it was introduced, had to take account of grantee perception – they were our partners not guinea-pigs and they were never slow to voice their reservations.

So to the nuances of the current debate – I am impressed that Kania, Kramer and Russell admit their disappointment in the results of the previous strategic philanthropy approach; I am less happy, however, with a refurbished narrative which seems to beg, borrow and steal from a pot-pourri of economics, management-speak, astrophysics and ecology. Can we not just recognize that when any funder sets her/himself the task of addressing complex issues, such as social justice and conflict transformation, there needs to be provision for continuous consultation, practice, reflection and change? Is it not possible to have academic challenge and insights without the need for translation?

Although the article shares some elegant quotes (my own favourite from Einstein is ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’), I was left pondering as to what we might call the place advocated by Kania, Kramer and Russell, where ‘rigor and flexibility meet’ – the philanthropic fitness suite? And is it overly jaundiced to view an ‘emergent strategic philanthropist’ as a newly fledged butterfly weighed down by systems maps? As we shift from strategic philanthropy to strategic philanthropy with the gloss of uncertainty, I still raise my glass to inclusive visioning, trial, error and learning drawn from a clear evidence base and, preferably, presented in everyday language.

Avila Kilmurray was director of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland from 1994 to 2014. She has recently joined the Global Fund for Community Foundations.
- See more at: http://philanthropynews.alliancemagazine.org/2014/08/13/log-frame-or-log-jam-a-response-to-strategic-philanthropy-for-a-complex-world/#sthash.eYFK7LHD.dpuf

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