Seven Tips for Foundations Looking to “Push the Envelope” of Philanthropy (Instead of Papers)

(This is a guest post from Peter Deitz, Founder of Social Actions, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Peter Deitz

I’m tucked away in a remote corner of the enormous Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, the site of this year’s annual conference of the Council on Foundations.

Before heading over to the next event, I want to quickly share seven tips I heard today on how foundations can “push the envelope” of philanthropy.

The following ideas come from three sources:

  • An interview with Bill Somerville, author of “Grassroots Philanthropy”
  • A session called “Social Entrepreneurship: New Approaches to Changing the World”
  • A session called “Philanthropy 2.0”

Here are the suggestions, in no particular order:

1) Put young people on your board, or consider creating a junior board for generating new ideas in grant-making, program evaluation, and technology-assisted philanthropy.
(Source: Participant in the “Social Entrepreneurship” session)

2) Create room for “high risk / high reward” grants, and learn from any failures. As a foundation, having philanthropic “scar tissue” could be a good thing.
(Source: Presenter in the “Social Entrepreneurship” session)

3) Open source the design of micro-philanthropic solutions, ie, integrate your constituents’ ideas and preferences into the planning and implementation of grant-making programs.
(Source: Charles Best,

4) Use social networks to tell people what organizations your foundation is funding, and why. This will permit you to serve as a scout for citizen philanthropists looking to make informed decisions about where they can direct their philanthropic dollars.
(Source: Joe Green, Facebook Causes)

5) Experiment with using social media. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out. On the internet, you can always maneuver quickly when something isn’t having the results you expected.
(Source: Rupa Modi,

6) Commit your foundation to funding nonprofits and to creating more change-makers in the world. A society of change-makers will solve the problems your foundation cannot solve on its own.
(Source: Bill Drayton, Ashoka)

7) Trust your program staff to make grants. This will speed up the process of moving resources to where they are needed most. Board members can confirm the grant after the fact.
(Source: Bill Somerville, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation)