Creating a Culture of Foundation Effectiveness

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Jim Coutre of The Philanthropic Initiative.

By Jim Coutre

image No offense to any presenter, but there was only one GEO session in which I did not see a single eye glance down at a Black Berry. Handy Lindsey Jr. of The Cameron Foundation, Mariam Noland of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Jim Canales of The James Irvine Foundation and Stephen Heintz of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund came together Tuesday afternoon for a candid and powerful discussion of how CEO’s can establish a culture that encourage effectiveness.

Leading off with the idea that Empathy + Openness + Inclusion = Effectiveness, the group moved between the theoretical and the practical in mapping out their views on what culture is needed and how CEO’s can work to establish it. Here are a few take-aways:

Openness and Inclusion

Take time to map out feedback loops among staff, board, CAC’s, and grantees. Embed grantee conversations in your processes. Don’t underestimate how effective the process of conversing with grantees can be in diminishing the power imbalance. Understand that your relationship with the Board is based on trust – build that trust by learning each Board member. Don’t “manage” your Board, they know when they are being managed; “engage” them.


Be mindful of the human consequences of what we do. If you build a real relationship with a grantee, you will not wound them with your decisions. Hold staff to the same expectations of accessibility they hold grantees to – and set benchmarks to measure it. Help staff relate to grantees by requiring they raise money for another charity. Ensure empathy by only hiring staff who are empathic at their core.

Invest in Your Culture

Investing in a culture of empathy, openness and inclusion will keep foundations from being shut out of the conversations and experiences needed to uncover real needs and identify promising experiments. Philanthropy is the risk capital of social change – and it cannot be applied effectively if foundations are isolated and insular.