I have a friend who emails me every time I complain that big foundations are not more innovative to say “But Sean, look at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation!”
I first heard EMCF CEO Nancy Roob speak at a Council on Foundations meeting. She co-presented with Clara Miller of the Nonprofit Finance Fund on why funders need to provide growth capital to nonprofits. I dug the presentation. After I wrote up my thoughts on the session, Nancy stopped by and became the first major foundation CEO to leave a comment on the Tactical Philanthropy blog (probably any blog for that matter).
Now The New York Times’ Stephanie Strom has an excellent article talking about a new fund being launched by EMCF:
A New York foundation that focuses largely on opportunities for low-income youths is creating a fund to help charities become bigger and more efficient.
The institution, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, has committed $39 million to the fund and attracted $49 million more from other foundations and individuals, putting it well on its way to achieving its goal of raising $120 million by June…
…The effort by McConnell Clark and its partners “is groundbreaking,” an acknowledgment “by major funders that scale isn’t cheap and that the order of magnitude needed to scale up to make real and lasting changes will take collaboration,” said Kirsten Moy, director of the economic opportunities program at the Aspen Institute…
…[The foundation] has won financing from major foundations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is highly unusual. Foundations have typically been unwilling to support concepts already developed by others; thus the proliferation of tiny organizations doing similar work.
“So very often there is pressure on foundations to feel like they are the ones discovering something,” said Hilary Pennington, director of special initiatives at the Gates Foundation. “We have said we want to explore ways in which grant makers could work together for greater impact, and we have an obligation to put our money where our mouth is.”
EMCF seems to have created a $1 million funding commitment to accept new funders into the pool. I believe that over time, individual donors (who give seven times more than foundations do each year) need to gain access to funds like this. However, even today, nothing should stop community foundations or national donor advised funds from aggregating their donors to make a $1 million commitment. This kind of work is already being done to provide smaller donors access to funds like Good Capital.