Field Building in Philanthropy

As we end 2008 a lot has changed since I launched Tactical Philanthropy in 2006. But we have a lot farther to go to build the field of philanthropy. Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund has just given me a $100 charitable gift that I can send to any US based nonprofit. I’d like to give the funds to a philanthropic intermediary. A nonprofit group who is improving the state of philanthropy in some way. I’d like your help to decide where to give.

If there is a nonprofit group who you think is improving the field of philanthropy, leave a comment to this post with the name and your argument (short or long, it is up to you) as to why you think they are improving the field. The explicit mission of the nonprofit does not need to be to improve the field of philanthropy. I want to hear why you think they are doing effective field building.

I’ll make the $100 grant to the subject of the most compelling arguement.


  1. 3 reasons why you should give the gift card to the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, a Minnesota-based community foundation.

    1) It is our core belief that people most affected have the highest vested interest and are best able to make decisions that impact their lives. So Headwaters’ grant-making committees are made up of community activists who work on social justice day to day —people of color, women, poor and working-class people, gays and lesbians, donor activist and people with disabilities.
    2) We act as an intermediary for larger local and national foundations that want to make effective grants to grassroots organizations but don’t have the staff capacity or on the ground resources to select community based groups that are doing ground breaking work.
    3) We hold our own feet and the feet of other foundations to the fire, when it comes to funding projects that address the root caused of injustice, things like poverty and inequality. We do this not just because it is the right thing to do but because funding organizing and advocacy work is one of the most cost-effective investments a foundation can make. According to a recent study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, every dollar invested in organizing and advocacy efforts results in $157 in benefits for local communities.

  2. I think you should give the gift to the Pasadena Independent School Foundation. As part of this program, middle to high school-aged students gain hands-on experience on how to establish and operate a private foundation, ultimately making grants to charitable organizations in their local and surrounding areas.

    The goal of the program is to give the students a comprehensive and thorough understanding of philanthropy and nonprofit operation, learn skills in critical thinking and decision making, and develop and build leadership skills and learn the benefits of voluntarism. By giving the participants of this program the opportunity to experience the fulfillment of contributing to the betterment of their community it is ultimately our hope that these students will acquire a life-long passion for giving.

    This program is completing its pilot year and will be expanding locally in 2009 with an expected national rollout in 2010. For more information you can go to

  3. My nomination Social Venture Partners International, because they are nurturing the infrastructure for 25 Social Venture Partnerships (SVP’s) around the world to develop new and smarter philanthropists.

    SVP International is an organizing association of SVP’s that helps capture the knowledge, build best practices, and promote the model of Social Venture Partnerships. They are helping communities around the world build local partnerships in which philanthropists can learn together, invest together, and provide meaningful professional services to the nonprofits they support.

  4. Thanks to the three of you for your submissions. I’m going to close this “contest” on Wednesday and make the grant.

  5. I am going to advocate on behalf of an organization and a mission that I believe wholeheartedly in. IssueLab is filling a critical gap in the sector’s infrastructure, enabling nonprofits nationwide to disseminate their research findings to a much larger audience than they could on their own.

    The web provides easy access to a vast array of information but notably this is not the case with nonprofit research. solves this problem by pooling the collective knowledge of thousands of nonprofits in its online archive and then working to bring that research to a broader audience.

    Valuable information about the causes of and solutions to our society’s most pressing problems, like homelessness, voting rights, access to health care, and child welfare, is just waiting to reach the right researcher, foundation officer, or legislator.

    When we pool our knowledge about social issues we better coordinate our approaches to social problems. Funders avoid supporting the same research over and over. Advocates get access to quality information about what lies behind some of the toughest questions we face. Nonprofits can share experience about what works and what doesn’t.

    In just the last year, hundreds of new pieces of research have been added to the IssueLab collection, and more than 10,000 other web sites, blogs, and online communities have linked to the IssueLab library!

    And just in case you were looking for one more reason to support IssueLab? We make $100 go a long way!



  6. Jessica Lee says:

    Dear Sean,

    New Sector Alliance is a nonprofit consulting and leadership development organization. Based in Boston, we represent a promising intermediary model. Our mission is to accelerate social change by strengthening organizations today, while develop leaders for tomorrow.
    We are improving the state of philanthropy in three ways:

    1. Our consulting engagements with nonprofits improve their efficiency, operations, and strategy, thereby improving the effectiveness of philanthropic dollars spent on these organizations.

    2. Our leadership development programs are cultivating the next generation of leaders that the sector requires to sustain itself and grow. Our alumni are active in the philanthropic community as staff, board members, volunteers and donors.

    3. We also work with philanthropic organizations directly as clients or as contractors for their grantees. We work with these institutions to strengthen their operations and strategy as well as improve the performance of their grantees and their overall return on investment.

    Finally, Fidelity has a strong presence in the Boston community, and we work with many organizations they care about. We are a lean organization that puts your contribution to work.

    For more information check out


    Jessica Lee
    Program Manager

  7. Luana Lewis says:

    We respectfully request a grant of $100 to The Education and Research Foundation of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York. Through its core program, the New York Philanthropic Advisory Service (NYPAS), our BBB Foundation encourages donor recognition and support of worthy nonprofits, and helps charity leaders to understand and meet high standards.

    We are based in New York City and primarily work with nonprofits located in Southern New York State; however, our Foundation’s educational programs frequently have national reach and relevance.

    In recent years, we have conducted several major symposia, bringing together nonprofit and foundation leaders to discuss key issues related to making and assessing charitable impact. These programs have featured important leaders from the philanthropic sector. They were filmed. Digital films of our two prior BBB Charity Effectiveness Symposia can now be viewed online at a special section of our website: Whitepaper summaries of the proceedings are also available at this web address. Any nonprofit leader may view this information from her or her computer, at any time.

    We have just opened registration at for the third BBB Charity Effectiveness Symposium, entitled “State of the Philanthropic Union: Meeting Effectiveness Challenges,” which will take place in New York City at Baruch College on February 26, 2009. This program will also be filmed and posted on our website, in the future, as a public resource.

    Your grant would be used to advance our BBB Foundation efforts to facilitate learning about charity accountability and effectiveness in 2009.

    We would be delighted to answer questions, and will gladly provide our BBB Foundation’s annual report, IRS tax exempt information, and audited financial statement upon request.

  8. Sonia says:

    I nominate StandUp For Kids, a group dedicated to serving homeless and street kids. It is nearly all-volunteer across 20+ states and 30+ cities. It works with kids directly on the streets, provides continuing services as they move into more stable situations and also does advocacy work, including getting an Act of Congress (literally!) to recognize November as Homeless Youth Awareness month.

    For more on StandUp For Kids, you can visit There’s a great video that features its CEO and founder, Rick Koca at

    This organization is the one that inspired me to work in non-profits as a career path… a group near and dear to my heart.

    Thank you for considering them, and thank you for creating this opportunity!

  9. Sonia says:

    Gosh, I’m really not awake today. Despite having read this twice, I got so excited about nominating a worthy org that I forgot the “philanthropic intermediary” piece by the time I got to the bottom… sorry about that!

  10. Sean,
    I nominate Grantmakers for Effective Organizations ( for the for the $100 philanthropic intermediary recipient. They have an effective leader in their executive director, Kathleen Enright, and as an example of the leadership role she is providing in these trying times, here’s an excerpt from her October 24th letter to their members:

    Recognizing that the issues and causes that philanthropy supports are among the most exposed to the volatility we are currently experiencing, we encourage you to show the steady leadership that our communities need most. It might feel risky or counterintuitive, but we’d like to suggest that you consider the following:

    • Hold steady. No one knows where the current crisis will lead, so consider holding your grants for 2009 at 2008 rates. Nonprofits, unlike foundations, have no financial cushion to ride out times like these. A decision to hold steady will provide a small degree of breathing room as nonprofits themselves adjust. This may mean that you pay out more than five percent, but such a decision displays a real commitment to the nonprofits on the front lines.

    •Consider the no-cost changes you can make that will give your grantees added latitude to weather the storm. For instance, think about releasing restrictions on current grants so that grantees can better react to a changing environment. Several grantmakers quickly made this adjustment after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. Not only did it enable nonprofits to react to the changed circumstances, it also generated a great deal of goodwill.

    I’m very much aware of non-profits that are cutting their budgets and staffs even before there is any actual loss of revenue, so her guidance on keeping grants at the 2008 level for the 2009 budget, as well as the emphasis on multi-year funding makes them a good fit for the Tactical Philanthropy grant.


    Bill Huddleston

  11. David Lynn says:

    I’ll second SVPI (or your local SVP chapter). The leverage of money to mission at SVP chapters is phenomenal, and considering the mission is building better philanthropists in the local community, it’s a great fit.

    Our local San Diego chapter last fiscal year provided over 13,000 hours in volunteer support to local non-profits, primarily focused on building capacity.

    (Shameless plug, of course, but Sean asked.)

    –David, SDSVP

  12. The contest is now closed. Thanks for entering!